EU finally bans 2 very toxic pesticides - including one of the Toxic 12

Two very toxic pesticides will be banned in Europe from 2024. EU Member States agreed on this in their meeting on March 23rd. They are both banned because of their high toxicity to human health and the environment. The fungicide Ipconazole - part of our Toxic 12 list - was classified as toxic to the development of unborn children back in 2018 and should have been banned right then. The insecticide Oxamyl should have been banned in 2016 when the original authorisation expired. The fate of another very dangerous fungicide and one of the Toxic 12 Dimoxystrobin will be further discussed in May.

The ban marks a positive step towards a total phase-out of the most hazardous pesticides in the EU by 2030, as demanded by EU law and by more than 1.1 million European citizens in the ECI Save Bees and Farmers. So this surely is a positive step. A ban was a result of the conclusions of scientific research and the classification by EU regulatory bodies. 

But why did it take so long? The inevitable conclusion occurs very late compared to when the hazards and risks were identified. The exposure of people and the environment to these toxic substances could and should have been avoided for years now. In accordance with the EU Pesticide Regulation, Dimoxystrobin and Oxamyl should have been banned in 2016 and Ipconazole in 2018. 

Flaws in the implementation extend the use of very toxic substances

In late 2022, the Commission shared with Member States its proposal to ban three pesticide substances: Dimoxystrobin, Ipconazole and Oxamyl. The three are “candidates for substitution”, the list of most hazardous substances in the EU under the Pesticide Regulation. The fungicides Dimoxystrobin and Ipconazole are also part of the “Toxic 12”, pesticides that should be banned immediately according to PAN Europe. Dimoxystrobin and Oxamyl have been authorised in the EU since 2006. Ipconazole was introduced in 2014. They are used by farmers in a majority of EU Member States.  

Systematic prolongations without safety check

The approval period of Dimoxystrobin and Oxamyl has been continuously extended, without update of the scientific assessment since 2006. Initially, the approvals were due to expire in 2016 after a 10-year period. Before the authorisation expires a new assessment should take place, based on recent scientific knowledge. The file should be prepared by one or several appointed Member State(s). Hungary for Dimoxystrobin and France and Italy for Oxyamyl. 

This didn’t happen, or rather not in time. Dimoxystrobin and Oxamyl were allowed on the fields for 17 years, without the required reassessment. Why? The Member State(s) in charge of reassessing the substances did not deliver their conclusions to the European Food Security Agency (EFSA) on time. These delays are common and the European Commission closes its eyes by prolonging the approval. With time, this has evolved into a very unhealthy pattern: almost all pesticides identified as “candidates for substitution” now received one or more prolongations of their approval period, as a result of delays in their reassessments (Have a look at our Factsheet Patterns of systematic and unlawful prolongation of toxic pesticide approvals). PAN Europe has lodged a complaint to the EU Court of Justice to stop these practices, which compromise the protection of human health, animal health and the environment.

Ipconazole: banned 5 years too late

In March 2018, the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) concluded that Ipconazole is damaging the development of unborn children. It classified it as presumed toxic to reproduction (Cat. 1B). The Pesticide Regulation considers these properties so toxic that any exposure poses an unacceptable level of risk to humans and the environment. Therefore, this classification must lead to an immediate ban.

As we have seen, it took the Commission four years to propose a ban. Now that Member States have agreed to it, it will take 9 more months  before this ban becomes effective as Member States negotiated an extended grace period. So where does this extra delay come from? First the Commission waited until 2021 to proceed with an approval review. Next the pesticide industry holding Ipconazole’s approval licence asked to assess whether human exposure to Ipconazole could be “negligible” in some specific use conditions. Negligible exposure means no contact with humans according to the Regulation. There is no record of possible negligible exposure for any pesticides substance so far. But the move gave the industry a few more years to sell Ipconazole in Europe. EFSA had to carry out an additional assessment which took months. This trick is now abused every time. The European Commission should stop this favouring of the industry and propose an immediate ban in new cases.

EU law requires a much stricter approach. A recent judgement of the European Court of Justice made this very clear: 

“In that regard, it should be borne in mind that those provisions are based on the precautionary principle, which is one of the bases of the policy of a high level of protection pursued by the European Union in the field of the environment, in accordance with the first subparagraph of Article 191(2) TFEU, in order to prevent active substances or products placed on the market from harming human or animal health or the environment.” 

Followed by: “Furthermore, it is clear, as stated in recital 24 of Regulation No 1107/2009, that the provisions governing authorisations must ensure a high standard of protection and that, in particular, when granting authorisations of plant protection products, the objective of protecting human and animal health and the environment should ‘take priority’ over the objective of improving plant production.” (recitals 47 and 48).

No pesticide authorisation should be extended without new assessment. And if a substance does not comply with the health and environmental safety requirements of the Regulation, the Commission should immediately propose to ban it. This process should not be delayed by industry tricks.

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Pesticide Action Network Europe (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.