The European Union’s new pesticides ‘package’ has cleared its final hurdle and will enter the statute books, despite last minute opposition from some ministers. The package changes both the way pesticides are regulated across Europe and the way they are used.
Europe’s Council of Ministers voted in favour of the package on September 24, heralding the way for a new Pesticide Authorisation Regulation and the Directive on the sustainable use of pesticides.
The former changes the way pesticides are regulated in Europe, switching the emphasis from the current approach, which is based on an assessment of risk, to hazard-based ‘cut-off’ criteria and has proved particularly controversial (for more details on the package go to European legislation).
United Kingdom ministers refused to support the Regulation, though they did back the Directive, saying the latter will bring the rest of Europe into line with the controls on pesticides currently in force in the UK.
“The UK cannot support these proposals [the Regulation] as they could lead to a reduction in crop yields for no recognisable benefit to human health, and no definitive assessment of the impact of removing these chemicals has been produced,” UK Environment Minister Dan Norris told Farmers Guardian. “Neither do we agree with the principle of regulating based on hazard rather than risk.”
Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the UK’s Crop Protection Association, said up to 20 per cent of currently approved pesticides could be lost, though this figure was much lower than earlier in the negotiation process, before concerted lobbying by the food chain.
“Together we secured the support of the UK Government, and a strong coalition of MEPs, in opposing the new rules,” he said. “Our efforts were not in vain and the positive momentum must not be lost. We must continue to press the EU to strengthen the independent scientific advice it receives, to demonstrate the benefits of technological innovation in food production, and to highlight the vital role of modern, science-based agriculture in responding to the urgent challenges of food security, climate change and declining natural resources.”
Science-based decision making
The importance of science-based decision making at an EU level was also the central theme of a debate on the importance of pesticides in tackling food security threats at an industry gathering in Barcelona, Spain, in September.
The debate at the AgChem Forum was hosted by the Crop Protection Association and featured a panel that included Ian Denholm, from ENDURE’s UK partner Rothamsted Research.
Ian expressed particular concerns about increases in pest resistance in key crops across Europe, a situation which is likely to deteriorate still further with the loss of some pesticides under the new hazard-based cut-off criteria.
Closing the debate, Dyer welcomed the pledge by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso to appoint a chief scientific adviser, a move similar to that of Barack Obama in the United States, who has appointed John Holdren, a Harvard professor of environmental policy, to head his scientific team. Barroso said earlier in September that the adviser would have the power “to deliver pro-active scientific advice throughout all stages of policy development and delivery”.