EU Environment Committee Approves Ban of Highly Toxic Pesticides


(Beyond Pesticides, November 7, 2008)

The European Parliament’s environment committee has passed new measures aimed at reducing use and toxicity of pesticides used on crops throughout the European Union (EU). If approved by Parliament at the end of the year, the EU will be on its way to reducing pesticide use by 85 percent by 2013. The measure faces significant backlash from the chemical industry and conventional farmers, but committee members (MEPs) remain firm that the restrictions are both important and possible to do. An official report published last month found record levels of pesticide residues on EU food, giving momentum to pesticide restrictions.

One adopted regulation will cause a list of approved “active substances” to be drawn up, according to which pesticides will be registered at a national level. It also allows EU states to be stricter than the allowable list. One amendment says, “Member states may establish any pesticide-free zones they deem necessary in order to safeguard drinking water resources. Such pesticide-free zones may cover the entire Member State.”

The second approved measure, passed on to Parliament by EU agricultural ministers in June, bans “certain highly toxic chemicals,” those being endocrine disrupting, genotoxic, carcinogenic or toxic to reproduction. Neurotoxic and immunotoxic chemicals may also be banned where they pose a significant risk. Provisional approval may be given to any of these chemicals if it “is needed to combat a serious danger to plant health.” This resolution states that “Member states should monitor and collect data on impacts of pesticide use, including poisoning incidents, and promote long-term research programmes on the effects of pesticide use.”

It also argues that, “In other places such as residential areas, public parks, sports and recreation grounds, school grounds and children’s playgrounds, and in the vicinity of public healthcare facilities . . . the risks from exposure to pesticides of the general public are high. Use of pesticides in those areas should, therefore, be prohibited.” It urged member states to promote alternatives, even saying, “A levy on pesticide products should be considered as one of the measures to finance the implementation of general and crop-specific methods and practices of Integrated Pest Management and the increase of land under organic farming.”

The report, by Christa Klass, passed 58-3, with two absentions. It also set quantitative targets. “Active substances of very high concern” and “toxic or very toxic” pesticides will be subject to “a minimum 50% reduction.” It also bans aerial spraying in general, allowing exceptions by approval, and restored a demand for buffer zones to the text.

While industry interest groups protested the restrictions, claiming yields will fall and prices will rise, MEPs and public health advocates dismissed them. “Human health must be given better protection,” said British MEP Caroline Lucas. “With today’s vote, MEPs have rejected industry scaremongering, and sent a clear message that they want to see a reduction in the use of dangerous chemicals.”

“We think these proposals are a step in the right direction,” said the Soil Association’s Lord Peter Melchett. “They could go further and the British government should be pushing for them – not opposing them.” According to the BBC, a final vote could come in December or January.

Sources: Parlamento Europeo, EU Observer, The Telegraph, BBC