Newsletter 17

January - April 2004

1. PAN Europe activities

Pesticide residues in food

The Commission’s 2003 proposal for a new pesticides residue directive aiming to harmonise Maximum Residue Levels across the EU was discussed in March and April by European Parliament members. PAN Europe members were very critical of the Commission proposal and submitted suggested amendments to ensure better consumer protection. Some of these were taken on board by Green, Socialist and Liberal MEPs and we were pleased that Parliament voted to:

  • take account of cumulative pesticide exposure;
  • assess all sources of pesticide exposure when deciding MRLs;
  • take new scientific findings into account and new concerns of development toxicity, immunotoxicity and endocrine disruption;
  • more frequent publication of residue monitoring results on the internet;
  • integrated pest management approaches, rather than just Good Agricultural Practice, should be used as a basis for setting maximum residue levels.

Unfortunately, calls to add an extra safety factor of 10 for children were not agreed. PAN-E partners in 8 countries were involved in lobbying Parliament Members to support stricter measures. The next step will be when the Council of Ministers for 25 Member States votes on the proposals later this year.

Revision of pesticides authorisation directive 91/414

PAN-E took part in the stakeholder consultation meeting organised by DG Health & Consumer Protection in January and submitted our position on the Commission proposals in the revision of this directive. There should be hazard-based cut-off criteria for excluding active ingredients from approval, particularly for toxicity, persistence and bioaccumulation and for those carcinogenic, mutagenic, toxic to reproduction, endocrine disrupting and sensitizing. Newly recognised effects should be included faster and evaluation of toxicity of mixtures of pesticides. There should be substitution and comparative assessment, to favour least harmful products and alternative methods. The new proposals to register formulated products at 3 zonal levels (Scandinavia, Central Europe, and Southern Europe) could limit the possibility for individual Member States to restrict use of particular products and set up a 3 tier system of different standards. We want more controls and sanctions on improper use and a robust system to make sure that any pesticide no longer approved under the directive for health or environmental reasons is clearly identified and notified to other countries under the Prior Informed Consent convention. Commission proposals are expected to be finalised by September 2004 and then voted on by Parliament and Council of Ministers.

Aerial spraying consultation

We attended a DG Environment stakeholder meeting in March to address the original Commission proposals for a possible ban on aerial spraying, under its proposed Thematic Strategy for a sustainable use of pesticides. PAN-E’s position in our PURE campaign is for a total ban. We are concerned that crop and forest spraying companies are arguing that aerial application can be precisely controlled and there is no alternative on steep slopes and they say there are environmental benefits from low volume, GPS-guided, sophisticated technologies but without presenting any concrete evidence. There is very different practice among Member States, e.g. Greece no longer aerial sprays olive groves but Spain does. Total bans are currently only in Denmark, Estonia and Slovenia, with partial bans in Italy, Cyprus, Austria and Belgium.

Costs and benefits of pesticide reduction

As part of the development of the Thematic Strategy for a sustainable use of pesticides, DG Environment has to conduct an Economic Impact Assessment, carried out by an external consultancy firm. PAN-E and other stakeholders were asked to complete a questionnaire on our opinions and data. However, the questionnaire focuses on possible costs of proposed measures and provides almost no opportunities to estimate possible benefits, either economic or health and environment-related. We expressed our concern to DG Environment and the consultancy firm and have submitted information on published studies showing benefits from pesticide reduction programmes. Disturbingly, DG Environment continues to claim that there is no direct link between overall reduction of quantities of pesticides used and the risks involved.

PURE is Working report

We published a new report entitled Pesticide Use Reduction is Working: An assessment of national reduction strategies in Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Norway. This describes the different measures under these programmes, achievements, factors contributing to success or difficulties, as well as indicators used to measure reduction targets.

Environment & Health strategy

In June 2003, the Commission proposed a "European Environmental and Health Strategy", also called SCALE (Science, Children, Awareness, Legal instruments , Evaluation), on how to address environment and health issues in a more integrated way. In order to develop this strategy and prepare an Action Plan 2004-2010 as the Commission's input to the WHO Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in Budapest in June 2004, a series of technical working groups were set up starting last autumn, in which we participated. In 2004 PAN-E participated further in the biomonitoring of children TWG, and integrated monitoring of endocrine disruptors and liaised with like-minded NGO and academic colleagues in the childhood cancer and neurodevelopmental disorders TWGs. We have been concerned that the aim of the TWGs appeared to be to highlight problems and deficits with the existing data and to advocate further research, rather than push for policy action.

We submitted pesticide-related recommendations for immediate actions, including legislation for pesticide dependency reduction; pesticides as priority substances for biomonitoring; geographical mapping of emissions; and adoption of cut-off criteria in Directive 91/414. These were included in annexes to the relevant working group reports but not considered as consensus recommendations. In January we joined other NGOs in sending a letter to EC officials with our concerns and recommendations for the next phase of developing action plans. In March NGOs, including PAN-E, again wrote to EC officials and relevant Commissioners to express disappointment about the outcome of this process. The main concerns are: the draft action plan fails to take forward many concrete and important proposals from TWGs ; there is too much emphasis given to research; legislative action is a must for an Action Plan; precautionary decision-making must be a basis for SCALE; and financial resources and targets are critical for better health.
The DG Envt web site contains the reports from the TWGs and draft action plan proposals: http://europa.eu.int/comm/environment/index_en.htm, go to policies and then to health.

Stop paraquat campaign

In January we joined a coalition of international trade union organizations and environmental NGOs to file a lawsuit with the European Court of First Instance challenging the European Commission’s decision last December to grant EU-wide approval for the herbicide paraquat . The Commission decision ignored readily available scientific evidence on the toxic effects of paraquat on humans and the environment. Lawyers representing the coalition will argue that approval violates the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the European Union Treaty (in particular the precautionary principle) and secondary EU law.

The Swedish government is also suing the Commission, asking the European Court of Justice to annul the Commission’ decision to approve paraquat. Paraquat has been banned since 1983 in Sweden for health concerns.

At an international strategy meeting in March, members from PAN Regional Centres agreed to focus worldwide on paraquat and the organochlorine endosulfan as key active ingredients under PAN International’s objective of eliminating the most hazardous pesticides. PAN International wants to see both pesticides notified under the PIC convention and to get endosulfan listed in the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Convention.

2. Published news and information

More actives get “essential use” derogation

The Commission has allowed certain Member States to continue specific uses of eight pesticides withdrawn from the EU market in March 2004. These are the herbicides cinosulforon, flamprop-M, pretilachlor and quinclorac, the insecticides hexaflumoron and methidathion, the fungicide triadimefon and the disinfectant alkyldimethyl-benzyl ammonium chloride. Both methidathion and triadimefon are categorised as Bad Actors in PAN North America pesticides database using official data sources: methidathion is acutely toxic and triadimefon moderately toxic; both are possible carcinogens and potential groundwater contaminants, methidathion is a cholinesterase inhibitor and triadimefon a suspected endocrine disruptor. Essential uses will be allowed for these pesticides until end of 2007. Methidathion, for example, may continue to be used on olives in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, on apples and pears in France, Greece and Portugal and on oilseed rape in Germany, amongst others.

New active ingredients herbicide flazasulfuron, fungicide pyraclostrobin and fungicide benzoic acid were added to the EU approvals list, Annex 1 of the pesticides authorisation directive, and the herbicide and potato sprout inhibitor chlorpropham given re-registration approval. New fungicide mepanipyrim and the biofungicide Pseudomonas chloroaphis are recommended by the EC Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health to be included for EU-wide approval too.
Agrow 442, February 20th 2004 p 7., 444, March 19 2004 p 11 and 446 April 23 2004, p8 and Pesticides Database www.pesticideinfo.org

Bee controversy leads to further pesticide restrictions in France

Following the longstanding debate over use of fipronil and imidacloprid insecticides and heavy mortality of bee colonies, the French Ministry of Agriculture in February suspended sales of the six fipronil products registered in France. However, farmers could still use seeds treated with fipronil for sowing this season and use up existing seed stocks. France’s pesticide toxicology commission earlier this year recommended the government should not support EU-wide approval of fipronil, for which France is the rapporteur state for the review of this active ingredient, due to be finalised by end 2005. A court case in southern France to prosecute BASF and Bayer for sales of a “toxic product harmful to human and animal health” in connection with bee kills has kept the debate in the media eye. The magistrate raised concerns that fipronil received only a series of temporary sales authorisations since its introduction in 1996, rather than a rigorous assessment pre-marketing and researchers reported that traces of fipronil have been found in silage fed to cattle and accumulated in animal fat and milk, while fipronil was detected in the air. M. Narbonne, a food safety expert at Bordeaux University, argued that the level of exposure in food often exceeded the acceptable daily intake, especially for children.
Insecticide ban as billions of bees die http://www.bees-trees.demon.co.uk/news%20and%20views.htm and Agrow 443, March 5 2004 p 11

Agrochemical market in Europe increased in 2002

Industry figures showed a 1.7% increase in sales in 2002 in the total EU and European Free Trade Agreement Region, up to ? 5,835million. Although the figure means an actual decline of 0.3% allowing for currency and inflation factors, industry notes this was a significant improvement on the years 1999-2001. Higher crop prices and greater certainty over farm income were important factors. Total 2002 sales in the ten Accession countries were worth ?779 million euros, sales in Romania and Bulgaria ? 140 million and Russia and the Ukraine, ? 221 million. Preliminary assessment of 2003 sales confirms the upward trend, although drought depressed fungicide sales in northern Europe.
Agrow 441, February 6th 2004, p.9.

Denmark confirms further pesticide reduction can benefit farmers

The Bichel committee of experts set up in 1997 produced the first assessment of economic consequences for farmers and society of different scenarios of pesticide reduction. Its conclusions have been used to inform subsequent government pesticide action plans. In 2003, the economic analysis was updated using current crop and pesticide prices and records of around 2,000 farmers’ use of pesticides during 1999-2003. The update confirms that farmers will gain an overall benefit of around 12.5 euros/ha, if they further reduce their Treatment Frequency Index from 2.0 to 1.7 (equivalent to a reduction of 15%). The government’s new action plan for 2004-09 targets this reduction in TFI. With 2.5 million hectares in Denmark, this means a total saving for farmers of roughly 30 million euros. It notes that a 30% reduction (TFI down to 1.4) would be possible using well established technologies without changing crop rotations and without additional costs (less than 7 euros/ha). Challenges will be to change farmer behaviour and practice, substituting farmer or advisor time for pesticide operations. Preventative spraying will need to meet higher economic thresholds and some systematic herbicide applications will need to be replaced with targeted spot treatment. Using row cultivators in sugarbeet, maize and winter oilseed rape can also reduce usage effectively, as can more resistant varieties of barley and wheat. However, stronger incentives are required to reach the reduction target, such as binding agreements, quotas or significant levies on use. The study also showed that larger farms of over 100ha have a 15% higher pesticide use than smaller farms.
Farm economic potential for reduced use of pesticides in Danish agriculture, JE Ørum, Rapport 163, Fødevareøkonomisk Institut, Copenhagen, 2003.

Toxic effects of co-formulants

Denmark’s Bichel Committee of 1999 suggested that pesticide authorisation should also include data requirements on co-formulants, some of which may be more toxic than the active ingredient. A literature study of 18 selected co-formulants showed that data availability on toxic effects is very limited and human data are very scarce. Most data concentrates on acute toxicity and irritant effects, meaning considerable gaps in proper hazard assessment. Many of the co-formulants studied were skin, eye and respiratory irritants, some had reported neurological, blood and kidney effects. The data indicate that co-formulants are not toxicologically inert but may have adverse health effects, although no exposure assessment was carried out to attempt to assess risk. The study recommends revising current approvals process to include data requirements on all relevant toxicological end-points for all the specific co-formulants to be used in a given pesticide formulation, with special attention to sensitisation, repeated dose toxicity, and CMR (carcinogenic, mutagenic, reproductive toxicity). Further regulation should ensure that co-formulants for which serious health effects are identified should no longer be permitted for use.
Report on the health effects of selected pesticide co-formulants. Pesticide Research series no. 80, Danish Environmental Protection Agency, 2003. www.mst.dk

OC residues in Portugal

A study in 2001-02 looked at organochlorine residues in non-occupationally exposed people in urban and rural areas. p,p´DDE, a HCH , p,p´DDD and ß-HCH were the most frequently identified residues. Isomers a- and ß-HCH were found more often than the insecticidal ? isomer, lindane. This could be due to exposure to impure formulations of lindane, either in agricultural use or in shampoos and lotions for headlice and scabies. Significantly higher levels of total DDT load were found in urban samples, possibly due to higher consumption of animal and diary products, particularly imported from countries where DDT has been used recently, while rural inhabitants tend to consume more local production. The authors note that younger groups have high levels of OC residues, suggesting continued exposure to these compounds. The data showed higher levels of DDT contamination than for studies in Spain, Italy, Germany or Belgium, although a Swedish study showed much higher p,p´DDE levels.
Evaluation of organochlorine residues in human serum from an urban and two rural populations in Portugal. S Cruz, C Lino and MI Silveira, Science of the Total Environment 317 23-35, 2003.

Pesticides and birth weight in rural Poland

A study of women from rural central Poland of whom 2/3 lived or worked on farms. None of the women were involved directly in pesticide application but indirectly exposed via working in treated fields or living on farm. Phenoxy herbicides were most frequently used (50%), followed by pyrethroids (43%), benzene thiosulphanates (28%), OPs (23%) and copper compounds (17%). 83% of women working in orchards and 73% working on other crop farms reported pesticides use during first or second trimester of pregnancy. A small but statistically significant negative effect on birth weight associated with exposure to pyrethoids was found. Pyrethroids are not reported in the literature to have negative effects on the foetus but several of the pyrethroids to which the subjects were exposed are suspected possible endocrine disruptors.
The use of pesticides in a Polish rural population and its effect on birth weight. W Hanke et al., Int. Archives Occupational & Environmental Health 76 614-620, 2003.

OC concentrations in gull chicks in the Baltic

The Fennoscandinavian subspecies of the lesser black-backed gull has experienced drastic population decline in recent years and is now endangered over its entire range. Decline is linked to very high chick mortality due to diseases. Elevated DDE/PCB ratio in lesser black-backed chicks indicate increased exposure to DDT compounds compared with other Baltic seabirds. DDE concentrations in diseased chicks were well above levels previously correlated with decreased reproduction, while levels in healthy herring gull chicks were well below these levels. Differences in DDT exposure due to migration habits might be important.
Organochlorine concentrations in diseased vs. healthy gull chicks from the Northern Baltic. M Hario et al., Environmental Pollution 127 411-423, 2004.

Dietary exposure in German children

Urine samples were analysed for OP and pyrethroid insecticides of children from families reporting no household use of pesticides. Exposure was therefore presumed to be via dietary intake. Levels of pyrethroid metabolites were low suggesting exposure well below Acceptable Daily Intake levels, but OP metabolite concentrations excreted were high and exceeded estimated dietary intake. One possible explanation is that OPs ingested might have already degraded to metabolites, which are not featured in standard residue testing. Internal exposure of OP insecticides may exceed ADI values in some children. In one family OP metabolite levels were low in father and son but very high in the mother. She ate large quantities of fresh fruit purchased from a local supermarket. When she switched to eating organic fruit, her levels dropped considerably.
Current internal exposure to pesticides in children and adolescents in Germany: urinary levels of metabolites of pyrethroid and organophosphorus insecticides. U Heudorf et al., Int. Archives Occupational & Environmental Health 77 67-72, 2004

3. News from PAN Europe partners

Using theatre to campaign on pesticide issues in Armenia

Armenian activists used dangerous pesticides in agriculture as the theme for a children’s theatrical performance as part of their campaign “Towards Toxic Free Future” to raise public awareness about why pesticide use should be reduced. Based on the “Dwarf Nose,” fairy tale, the performance describes a relationship between food and people’s health. The main hero, a boy with a long nose and a hunchback, is bright but his physical appearance emphasizes in a grotesque way the influence of toxic food on human health. The first performances were in October 2003 at two schools in Ararat Marz, the region most polluted with pesticides. Further performances at the State Puppet Theatre and National Centre of Aesthetics were a great success and a version was prepared for TV. To follow up, a schools competition is being held for the best script on dangerous usage of pesticides in agriculture. By involving children in personal participation in the information campaign, AWHHE aims for them to introduce to their families knowledge about pesticide impacts on human health and environment.

Balkan NGOs start networking on pesticides

Bulgarian NGOs organized the first international workshop dealing with pesticide related issues in the Balkan region in March 2004 in Sofia, with contributions from PAN Germany and 27 representatives of NGOs and administration from 4 Balkan countries (Bulgaria, Turkey, Romania and Macedonia). The aim was to meet NGOs interested in pesticide issues and facilitate exchange of information with Bulgarian government officials on pesticide use, authorization, control and monitoring. Pesticides remain too expensive for most Bulgarian farmers to use under current economic conditions but where pesticides are still applied, they are often used inappropriately and are causing problems of resistance. The management of pesticides is often very poor leading to localised water pollution problems from poor storage, over-application, inappropriate disposal or accidents by spray operators. In 2001, 35% of stores were in bad condition. In 2003, 711 storage sites containing over 6,000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides and 57% of sites were unprotected.

A Bulgarian network of NGOs was set up in 2003, with a campaigner to prepare data about the impacts of pesticide use in Bulgaria. Educational meetings were held with farmers and experts in the Bulgarian Black Sea region. Closer cooperation in NGO action activities is necessary for the Balkan region and the second International Balkan workshop is planned for September 2004 in Romania. PAN Germany will publish a Fact Sheet on “Pesticide Use in Bulgaria - Pesticide use, issues and how to promote sustainable agriculture in Bulgaria” in cooperation with the Bulgarian NGO Association Agrolink in May.

Promoting Best Agricultural Practice in Central & Eastern Europe

In March 2004, PAN Germany organized a technical workshop, titled “Moving Towards Pesticide Reduction – Instruments for Change” in co-operation with the Polish Ecological Club of Gliwice (PKE) with 18 representatives of NGOs from 6 Central and Eastern European countries. The aim was to discuss different “Risk Management Concepts” in agricultural plant protection such as Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) and Integrated Crop/Pest Management (ICM/IPM), which have been developed to make conventional farming more sustainable. In order to move farmers away from ‘bad practices’ to good and best practices, the concept of Best Agricultural Practice (BAP) was introduced. While GAP focuses on rules, regulation and recommendation, often understood as “current agricultural practice”, BAP goes beyond other concepts to build a step-by step approach from “bad practices” to “good practices” to “best practices” as a vision towards pesticide reduction and sustainable agriculture in local agroeconomic, social and environmental contexts.

Participants from the new EU-Member States already harmonized in EU-legislation agreed that “good” practice in GAP definitions were generally in place, whereas those from non-EU countries (e. g. Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine) classified their current practice as “bad”. Not only are pesticides handled poorly but the legal framework and official control instruments are either underdeveloped or do not work in practice.
All participants agreed on the need for more education and training activities for farmers and crop advisors, financial and strategic support from the government as well as NGO activities in order to raise awareness of environmental and health risks of “bad” plant protection practices in.
The new PAN Germany Brochure “Moving towards Pesticide Reduction…realising Best Agricultural Practice in Central and Eastern Europe” can be downloaded at http://www.pan-germany.org, with Polish and Russian versions available by June.

Bystander exposure and right to know concerns taken up by UK parliamentarian

The British government held a public consultation on the issue of pesticide exposure of those living close to sprayed fields last year. PAN UK and others encouraged the public to take an active part, demanding a public right to know on pesticide application details and for buffer no-spray zones next to people’s homes, as a precautionary measure to protect public health. Over a thousand people and organisations submitted their views, one of the highest number of responses to a consultation since records began. The government is now preparing its decision. To continue the pressure, PAN UK has persuaded one Member of Parliament to propose an Early Day Motion on the subject, to be debated if more than 100 Members sign in its support. The EDM proposes “that the public should have the right to know what pesticides to which they are exposed in the air, and potentially by skin contact, are being used near their homes, and in fields crossed or skirted by rights of way; notes that pesticide users should provide advance notification, and signs on-site, giving this information, or a hotline number, or website; and believes that no-spray buffer zones around residential areas, including homes, nurseries, schools and homes for the elderly, should be observed as a precautionary public health measure”.

PAN UK is urging members of its Action on Pesticide Exposure (PEX) network and other supporters to ask their MP to sign the EDM and to contact the relevant Minister to let them know their views.

The PAN Europe Newsletter is compiled by Stephanie Williamson, PAN-E Coordinator, Eurolink Centre, 49 Effra Road, London SW2 1BZ, UK Tel +44 (0)20 7274 8995, Fax +44 (0)20 7274 9084, Contributions are welcome from PAN Europe network members and individuals.

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PAN Europe gratefully acknowledges the financial support from the European Union, European Commission, DG Environment, Life+ programme. Sole responsibility for this publication lies with the authors and the funders are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.