EU pesticides package passes first key milestone

STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - Spraying pesticides near schools or hospitals is set to be heavily controlled under a contested package of rules adopted by European Union lawmakers on Tuesday to safeguard health and food quality.

There would also be a general ban on aerial crop spraying, making it illegal in the 27-nation bloc to kill bugs using a method made famous by Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “North by Northwest.”

“This is something consumers want. They don’t want poison on their plates, they don’t want poison in their environment,” said Green Party member Hiltrud Breyer.

The aim of the package proposed by the European Commission is to wean farmers, gardeners and the keepers of parks and forestry off pesticides.

Less harmful alternatives would be encouraged, with some products used today eventually being banned or used less.

Tuesday’s first-reading vote in the European Parliament is not the last word, however.

EU member states also have to reach a common position with parliament before the package, which pits powerful agricultural and chemical industry lobbies against consumer and health advocates, can become law.

“It’s something to build on,” German centre-right lawmaker Christa Klass said.

The European Commission expects the package to end up banning 5 to 6 percent of pesticides currently used in the EU.

The bloc produces 230,000 tons of pesticide a year, a quarter of the world’s total -- even though it is home to just 4 percent of arable land.

The main elements agreed by the EU assembly include:

-- a general ban on aerial spraying with some exemptions such as in wine-growing areas

-- heavy restrictions on using pesticides near schools, playgrounds, parks, recreation grounds and hospitals

-- buffer zones set up to separate the usage or storage of pesticides from rivers, lakes and waterways

-- the use of “active substances of very high concern” will have to be cut by at least half by 2013

-- EU states would draw up national plans to identify crops or areas most at risk from pesticides

-- a list of active substances or key ingredients of pesticides will be drawn up at EU level. New pesticides would then be authorized at national level using the list

-- authorizations of products may include, in the “conditions of use,” an obligation to warn any neighbors who could be exposed to spray drift before the product is used and who have asked to be informed.

Lawmakers threw out the Commission’s plan to divide the EU into three zones for pesticide approvals.

An attempt to make it obligatory for farmers to inform neighbors in advance if they plan to spray with pesticides was also thrown out.