Dutch to tax pesticides
The Dutch government has proposed a tax to reduce the use of pesticides from 2003. The income generated will be used to develop more environmentally friendly alternatives for combating weeds, pests and diseases. It is hoped that by 2005, at least 90% of companies handling pesticides will have voluntarily acquired an integrated crop production certificate showing that they are operating on a sustainable basis. If this figure is not achieved then a ban will be imposed on the use of chemical agents by non-certified companies. The agricultural sector is objecting to the proposed tax.
Non-chemical weed control rewarded in Belgium
Farmers in Belgium who use mechanical means, rather than herbicides to control weeds will be rewarded. Over the next five years, those who use only use mechanical means will receive an annual bonus of £85/ha. Those who introduce strip spraying in row crops instead of conventional overall spraying will receive £28/ha.
High pesticide levels in the Netherlands
Scientists in The Netherlands have detected currently prohibited pesticides in groundwater and rainwater, and found that levels of pesticide contamination are higher than the groundwater and toxicological standards.
In a recent study, scientists found atrazine to be the pesticide most commonly encountered in high concentrations in both ground water and rainwater, often in combination with high levels of nitrate. In the study area, groundwater from natural springs is still occasionally used for drinking water, thus implying the risk of public exposure to contaminated water. Additionally, there is some evidence for a link between water contaminated with atrazine and nitrate and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
EU funds environment projects
The European Commission is to co-fund 103 environmental innovation projects in the EU, including one for collection and recycling of used pesticide containers in Spain. The Spanish project will take place in the Almería region, where pesticide contamination of ground water has become a sensitive issue.
Dutch essential uses cancelled
The registrations of 11 pesticide active ingredients (ais) considered ‘essential’ to Dutch agriculture and horticulture, have been cancelled following a successful appeal against their re-registration by two Dutch environmentalist groups and the Dutch association of water companies, VEWIN. The sale and use of products containing these ais are now prohibited because of environmental concerns that led to the original bans in 1999.
The 11 ais were re-registered in 2000 following concerns that sectors of agriculture and horticulture would be seriously affected by their loss. However, the appeal against their re-registration prompted the Dutch registration authority, the DTB, to review the dossiers for the 11 ais.
The confusion surrounding the legality of using the essential ais has led the Dutch Environment Minister to propose an unofficial three-month grace period during which time farmers found using them will not be immediately fined. This has also been challenged by the Dutch foundation for nature and environment (SNM) and the southern Holland environmental federation (ZHM) on the grounds that Dutch law does not allow such action. It remains to be seen how strict the Agriculture Ministry’s inspection service will be.
The SNM and the ZHM have also been successful in challenging a decision earlier this year to allow the use of the fungicide, maneb, and the insecticide, chlorpyrifos, until 1 January 2003. The CTB cancelled the ais’ registrations at the beginning of the July this year.
Fewer pesticides in German water
The amount of pesticides in Germany’s water supply continues to decline. The German farmer’s union, the DBV, claims that this indicates improvements in farmers’ practices and efforts to keep the water supply free of chemicals.
Increases in organic farming
In Germany, the area farmed organically increased by 20.7% to 550,000 ha in 2000, its largest increase in seven years. In Holland, meanwhile the area farmed organically increased by around 25,000 ha in 2000, an increase of almost 20% on the previous year.
French Government aims to ban triazine herbicides
The French Ministry of Agriculture has initiated proceedings aimed at banning the sale and use of triazine herbicides in France. Should the ban be enforced the suspension on sales would become effective from September 2002, while use would be allowed until June 2003 to clear existing stocks.
The Ministry’s move follows the detection of atrazine residues exceeding the EU drinking water limits in recent years. With 40% of surface water and 25% of ground water requiring treatment, the presence of atrazine and triazine herbicides has become widespread in France.
The proportion of triazine residues detected in French ground water between 1998 and 1999 was four times over the EU drinking water threshold of 0.1 mg/litre. The limit was exceeded more than ten fold in the case of surface water. This situation led some of the country’s local authorities to advise consumers not to drink tap water in summer 2000 and April 2001.
The Ministry’s decision is also based on the decreasing efficacy of atrazine and other triazine herbicides and the emergence of triazine-resistant weeds. This is partly due to the widespread use of triazine herbicides, which are among the cheapest on the market.
The French agrochemical industry association, the UIPP, is protesting, claiming that the Ministry’s decision overlooked the recommendations of the toxicity commission which concluded that the EU limit for drinking water could be exceeded without posing any risk to health and the environment. They hope a compromise with the government can be found shortly.
France to ban more pesticides?
The French government is planning to ban the sale and use of the pesticide sodium arsenite, which is mainly used as a fungicide on grapevines in the country. This move follows the recent proposals on triazine outlined above, as part of a policy aimed at ‘significantly’ reducing pesticide use and improving agricultural practise to ensure food safety.
The French Ministries of Agriculture, Health, the Environment, and the Finance Ministry’s consumer affairs department have set up a joint monitoring programme to review all pesticides considered to present a risk to health and the environment by 2003. The government is planning to restrict use or to impose bans if necessary.
The four Ministries, together with the French food safety agency are also going to establish a pesticide residues committee, involving a range of stakeholders, to oversee regulatory and monitoring issues.
Syngenta in German herbicide row
Syngenta’s oilseed rape herbicide, Brasan (dimethachlor + clomazone) has become the subject of much controversy in the German district of Pulow. It is claimed that the spraying of the herbicide on oil seed rape caused damage to neighbouring crops, fields and gardens, and health problems in the village of Klein Jasehow and surrounding area.
Residents of Pulow have set up a campaign group to investigate these claims. It states that there has been a reported case of clomazone residues being found in the blood of local resident and a number of cases where crops being grown organically had become contaminated by the herbicide.
The group has set up an Internet site that encourages people to come forward to report symptoms of illness and damage to crops. It claims not be ‘scare mongering’, merely offering the citizens of the area a responsible administrative service.
The regional Agriculture Ministry played down the dangers to public health, pointing out that the acceptable daily intake of clomazone is 0.043 mg/kg body weight. They said the occurrence of levels above this is practically impossible. The local group, however, claims that no studies have been carried out on the effects on human health of continuous inhalation of pesticides or the synergistic effects of inhaling different substances.
The Ministry commissioned soil tests in the affected area to check for excessive levels of Brasan. The Agriculture Minister said that if negligent pesticide spraying is proven, legal action could take place. However, the tests showed no contamination of the soil or plants by clomazone, and contamination by clomazone of crops from local organic farms has also been ruled out.
Syngenta claims that it cannot be held responsible for the contamination of crops and gardens and that Brasan is not the cause of the reported cases of illness. However, it is taking the reports seriously.
In light of these events, the Agriculture Minister has asked the German federal biological institute, the BBA, to review Brasan’s registration and to examine data on clomazone to ascertain how discolouring of non-target plants can be avoided in the future. So far, no indication has been given that the BBS is considering the withdrawal of clomazone-based products
Sweden to limit home herbicide use
Restrictions on herbicides for use in private gardens will come into force on January 1st 2003, if proposals drafted by the Swedish national chemicals inspectorate (KEMl), are accepted by the Swedish Parliament.
Keml’s main recommendation is that herbicides will only be approved for garden use if: they are sold in containers that only allow direct application of the product on to the weed; or if they contain naturally occurring substances such as acetic acid, fatty acids and ferrous sulphate.
The conditions for approval of all garden herbicides currently on the market will be changed during 2002 with the aim of reducing environmental risk. Herbicides that already have garden use restrictions could be withdrawn from the market altogether. However, the Inspectorate believes that changes in regulation alone are insufficient and proposes a wide-ranging programme of education into gardening and weed control.
Austria plans pesticide VAT cut
Austria’s Agriculture Ministry is planning to reduce the rate of value added tax (VAT) on agrochemicals, in order to increase competitively between Austrian farmers and the rest of the EU.
The country’s chemical industry association is welcoming the change, arguing that Austrian agrochemical sales have been impacted for a number of years by the disparity of VAT rates in the EU.
The environmental group Global 2000 has accused the Ministry of double standards by aiming to reduce pesticide usage while proposing to increase the VAT rate. The Agriculture Ministry has defended Global 2000’s condemnation in response to increase in pesticide usage last year, saying that the increase must be put into context – they argue that the largest rise in active ingredient (ai) use was for sulphur formulations and paraffin oil products, which are certified for use in organic farming. These products are used in place of more toxic ais. The Ministry stresses that this has led to a decline in the use of more environmentally damaging ais and thus their strategy of pesticide risk reduction was not compromised.
The Austrian government is presently considering its future agricultural policy, which will be orientated towards the promotion of environmental awareness.
New EU risk assessment urged
Current risk assessment methods rely on simple indices of risk that make only limited allowance for variation and uncertainty in factors determining environmental effects. A new report recommends that probabilistic risk assessment methods should be introduced, which can quantify these variations and estimate the frequency and magnitude of impacts.
These assessment methods can make better use of available data and may provide an alternative to field testing. The European workshop on Probabilistic Risk Assessment (EUPRA) considers they would be an important addition to risk assessment tools, provided they were implemented appropriately.
PCP residues in tea
According to recent research, more than half (28) of 50 samples of German fruit teas tested for pesticides residues showed the presence of the highly toxic wood preservation, pentachlorophenol (PCP). PCP, which is banned in Germany for crop use, can make its way into fruit from the wood on which the fruit is dried. Only 5 samples (10%) of the fruit tea samples were entirely free of pesticide residues.
European greenhouse biocontrol
Scientists are claiming that most, if not all, insect problems in vegetable crops of northern Europe can be solved without the use of insecticides.
It is suggested that IPM of insects and diseases without conventional pesticides could be a reality for all major European vegetable crops within a decade. Recent advances have been aided by plant breeding research which combines host plant resistance with biocontrol. An effort is also being made to select plant cultivars that release attractants for natural enemies after pest attacks, as well as plants that create a better ‘working environment’ for natural enemies.
Worldwide, only about 5% of greenhouse area is under IPM, in contrast to the Netherlands, where 90% of pepper, tomato and cucumber production is under IPM. The tomato IPM programme in Europe uses 10 natural enemies and several non-chemical pest control methods, including steam sterilisation of the soil, prior to planting and proper climate regulation.
The PAN Europe Newsletter is produced by Stephanie Williamson, Contributions are welcome from PAN Europe network members.