Pesticides: Parliament tough on substances, more lenient on use


Parliament has voted to expand the scope of substances banned from use in EU pesticide production. But tough restrictions on the use of pesticides, as proposed by Green MEPs, were endorsed only partially.

  • Detox

In a 23 October first-reading vote, Parliament added potentially immunotoxic and neurotoxic substances to the Commission’s proposed list of substances that cannot be used in the production of pesticides. The Commission’s existing list includes carcinogenic, genotoxic and endocrine-disrupting substances, as well as those substances that could harm reproductive health.

Under the Commission’s plans, the EU would draw up a list of ‘active substances’ that can be used in pesticide production. Member states would then be left to approve individual pesticides produced using the approved substances.

About five or six percent of pesticides currently used in the EU would become illegal if Parliament’s first-reading vote is approved by member states and becomes law, according to the Commission. 

But a more far-reaching ENVI committee proposal to reduce total EU pesticide use by 50% over ten years was rejected by Parliament, which wants to leave the decision to member states, preferring to impose reduction targets only in certain cases where highly dangerous substances are in use. Parliament wants the use of those substances, known as ‘active substances of very high concern’, to be halved by 2013.

  • Approval regime

The Commission’s zone-based approach (see EURACTIV 22/10/07) was rejected by the Parliament, which prefers member states to maintain national control over product approval.

Parliament also voted for shorter approval periods for substances than the Commission, which proposed a ten-year approval period for most new substances, with low-risk ones being permitted for 15 years. Substances that could be ‘easily replaced’ with less toxic ones should only be authorised for seven years, says the Commission’s proposal.

But Parliament endorsed earlier calls by MEPs in the ENVI Committee for five-year instead of seven-year approval periods for replaceable products. Parliament is also opposed to Commission plans concerning the renewal of substance authorisations: the Commission favours an indefinite renewal once a substance has been initially approved for a ten-year period, but Parliament wants substance authorisations to be renewed only once, and “for a period not exceeding ten years”.

  • Spraying and use

Restrictions on spraying in and around public areas such as schools and hospitals were supported by most MEPs, as was a ban on aerial spraying – but with derogations allowed, particularly in areas that are difficult to reach such as vineyards. 

Parliament did not, however, back a total ban on the use of pesticides in public areas, and it rejected several of the more restrictive measures proposed by the ENVI Committee, such as requiring farmers to inform neighbours of their intention to spray pesticides or imposing a ten metre no-use buffer zone around bodies of water. Member states should be left to determine the extent of buffer zones themselves, according to a majority of MEPs.

The European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) reacted strongly to Parliament's proposed extension on the ban of certain substances, saying that "serious damage will be inflicted on Europe's food and farming industry" if the parliamentary vote becomes EU law.

ECPA argued that the tighter rules would also put the EU's agri-food industry at risk. "Farmers will in many cases be left with few solutions to protect important crops from destruction", the organisation said in a press statement.

ECPA pledged that it will "continue to work alongside the farmers and growers in the agri-food industry, co-legislators and the European Commission with the intention of producing a final outcome that better meets the needs of European voters".

ESA, the European Seeds Association, considers the Parliament vote a "missed opportunity" to undo an apparent dilemma whereby "the seed industry is stuck between the European seed marketing legislation that theoretically establishes a true Common Market for seed and the old Directive on plant protection products that in practice knows no enforceable mutual recognition of authorisations".

MEP Christa Klass, the EPP-ED group's rapporteur, was pleased that the parliamentary vote "adjusted the fundamentalist course proposed by Parliament's Environmental Committee". Klass also noted favourably that "a blanket cut on the use of products for plant protection" was not supported by a majority of MEPs.

The Socialist Group reacted less favourably to the outcome of the vote, saying that the Christian Democrats yielded to industry pressure by not pushing for more pesticide usage restrictions. 

The Greens  hailed the vote as a "milestone in consumer and environment protection", and the GUE/NGL (European United Left/Nordic Green Left) group gave a mixed review of the vote, saying in a press statement that while 'right-wing MEPs 'gave in' to industry lobbying, the Parliament "nevertheless approved provisions that will be very useful in the fight to reduce the use of the pesticides and protect consumers and the environment". 

An alliance of NGOs - the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe, the International Chemicals Secretariat, and the Health & Environment Alliance (HEAL) - expressed relief that the list of substances was expanded, but said the vote "shows that MEPs are struggling with heavy pressure from industry". 

Elliott Carnell from PAN Europe charged that "a large section of the European Parliament is totally out of touch with European citizens, whose number one food-related concern is high pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables. MEPs have failed to deliver concrete targets to reduce pesticide use, and have given no guarantee that food contamination levels will drop. We also lack mandatory deadlines for applying integrated pest management", he said.

Georgina Downs of the UK Pesticides Campaign in Europe specified that "with the wording of the amendment [on pesticide spraying around sensitive areas] as it is, MEPs have actually voted for pesticide use to be prohibited in substantial no-spray zones in crop fields around residential areas, school grounds, playgrounds and other public areas. This is a very positive step, as there is currently nothing to protect people from passive exposure to pesticides", she said in a press statement.

The pesticides package presented by the Commission in July 2006 proposes a regulation to update a 1991 directive on the market authorisation of plant protection products (pesticides), and a directive that covers the day-to-day use of pesticides. 

MEPs in the Environment (ENVI) Committee voted in June to tighten the proposed measures with a ban on pesticide use around public areas (EURACTIV 27/06/07). 

In September, the committee also called for tougher criteria for determining which kinds of substances can be used in the production of pesticides (EURACTIV 12/09/07).

  • 26 Nov. 2007: possible political agreement in Agriculture Council.

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