January 13, 2009 / 6:06 PM / 10 years ago

EU assembly votes to ban toxic pesticides

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Parliament members voted on Tuesday to ban some of the most toxic and dangerous pesticides to human health.

A man sprays pesticide at the House of Ermelinda Freitas vineyard in Palmela, near Lisbon April 2, 2008. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

The move, likely to be endorsed by EU ministers in the next weeks, would let groups of countries with similar geography and climate decide whether farmers may use specific products.

A list of EU-approved “active substances” will be drawn up, with certain highly toxic chemicals to be banned unless their effect can be shown to be negligible — such as pesticides classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction.

That list will provide the basis for national EU governments to license each pesticide.

Pesticides already approved will remain available until their 10-year authorization expires, so there should be no sudden large-scale withdrawal of products from the market.

Tuesday’s vote was made smoother by a deal struck last month by parliament, the EU’s executive commission and the bloc’s 27 national governments to hammer out the remaining political difficulties for a final agreement on the new pesticide rules.

EU states will be able to approve pesticides nationally or via mutual recognition within 120 days, with countries divided into three zones — north, center and south — so pesticides can be approved for a region rather than a single country.

At present, approvals apply only for individual countries and there is no deadline set for mutual recognition approvals.

Crucially, EU countries will be allowed to ban a product, because of specific environment or agricultural circumstances.

Aerial crop-spraying will mostly be banned, with strict conditions placed on pesticides used near aquatic environments and drinking water supplies. Buffer zones will be set up around water and protected areas along roads and railways.

The changes agreed will make EU rules primarily a hazard-based, not risk-based, approach since they treat products in three categories: whether they are proven or suspected carcinogens, or whether there has been some observation — but no actual evidence — of carcinogenic behavior.

The classifications, known as cut-off criteria, have annoyed Europe’s pesticides industry, which says the new law will remove products from the market that have been used safely for years.

“The banning criteria are of major concern to industry and the whole European food chain. European farmers have already lost 60 percent of the substances previously available in 1991,” the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) said.

ECPA is an umbrella organization that represents Europe’s major pesticides companies. Bayer AG, BASF AND Syngenta AG are among those which would be affected by new EU rules.

Many EU scientists, for example — backed by countries like Britain — have been fighting this approach and say fewer available pesticides will lead to resistance problems since pests that are regularly treated with a single product type, not a range of products, will develop tolerance.

This would damage agricultural productivity and make farming of certain crops in Europe uncompetitive, such as wheat and barley, cotton, potatoes and a range of fruits and vegetables, since yields would be reduced, they say.

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