(Beyond Pesticides, October 29, 2007)
European Parliament members voted in favor of tighter pesticide legislation Tuesday, passing the first hurdle to enacting laws that would protect the EU’s most vulnerable communities, ensure high quality food, and prevent residues from accumulating in the environment. The European Commission’s proposal places a general ban on aerial spraying, heavily restricts the usage of pesticides in public areas, and plans to cut the use of “active substances of very high concern” by at least half by 2013. A majority of EU Member States need to approve the changes before the package can come into effect, and government representatives will meet on November 26 to debate the proposals.
“This is something consumers want. They don’t want poison on their plates, they don’t want poison in their environment,” said German Green Party MEP Hiltrud Breyer. By targeting the most toxic chemicals and the areas that face the highest risk from pesticide exposure, the proposed measures would cut total usage by 5 or 6 percent in the EU, where 300,000 tons of pesticides are sold each year. The EU produces one quarter of the world’s supply of pesticides, 230,000 tons each year, despite it only accounting for 4 per cent of agricultural land worldwide. Growers, farmers and park and forestry applicators will be weaned off pesticides and encouraged to adopt alternate practices.
Farmers and the chemical and agriculture industries were critical of the package even though many measures of the Commission’s initial plan were made less stringent and some altogether dropped. For instance, the ban on aerial spraying grants special exemptions, including wine-growing areas. While pesticide applications will not be allowed or restricted to a minimum in schools, playgrounds, parks, and hospitals; the MEPs rejected a plan to set up ten meter pesticide-free buffer zones around rivers, lakes and waterways to prevent chemical run-off from reaching water supplies. Instead Member States will be given discretion as to how wide the buffer zones they want to implement will be.
“A [ten meter pesticide-free] buffer zone is perceived to be a too large burden on farmers. But there are enough possibilities to compensate farmers that lose arable land because of a spray-free zone by providing subsidies,” said Dutch Green Party MEP Kathalijne Buitenweg. “It’s going to take a lot of money to purify the drinking water contaminated with agricultural poison,” she added.
MEPs took out a rule that would make it obligatory for farmers to inform neighbors before spraying. Parliament decided not to split Europe into three zones for pesticide approval as proposed, choosing a single EU-wide mutual recognition system that will give Member States flexibility for pesticide registration. Parliament also voted on a report on a draft regulation on the authorization of new “plant protection products”, i.e. pesticides. Under the regulation, the EU will create a positive list of “active substances”, the key ingredients of pesticides, and new plant protection products will then be authorized at national level on the basis of the active substances list.
The Commission proposed that most new substances should be approved initially for 10 years, though low-risk ones would be approved for 15 years. To encourage non-chemical alternatives, Parliament voted to approve substances that can be replaced by less toxic substances for only 5 years, down from the 7 years suggested by the Commission.
Parliament supported the Commission’s proposed ban on substances that are genotoxic, carcinogenic, toxic reproductively or endocrine-disrupting, and it added substances with neurotoxic or immunotoxic effects to the banned category. The proposed rules state that substances must not have harmful effects on human health, including vulnerable groups, to be approved.