EU pesticide committee SCoPAFF: the good, the bad and the ugly

The good, the bad and the ugly. That could be the theme of the SCoPAFF meetings on pesticide legislation in the EU. In the next January meeting, representatives of EU countries plan to mix a few good developments with several bad ones. Everything is deeply affected by the  ugliness arising from the failing implementation of the pesticide law. Too slow and too lax to protect health and environment. We supplied the Members of the Committee with detailed expert advice to support them in their decision-making.

Bad parts of the meeting are proposals, for example to reauthorise for 7 years a dangerous fungicide that is also related to failing medical treatments for human lung infections. Another very dangerous fungicide would be allowed in greenhouses, despite all the known dangers for health and environment and the fact that greenhouses are not closed systems but do leak pesticides into the environment. And a third very harmful herbicide – part of our most Toxic 12 - is on the list to be banned later this year but the Commission seems to be opening up a path to keep it on the market.

Ugly signs of the outdated system are the conclusions that could result in keeping a PFAS pesticide on the market. Here the EU pesticide authorisation is failing in its clearest visible form. There is a group of PFAS pesticides that are either persistent themselves or degrade into forever metabolites which contaminate our water, soil and food. They are identified but there is no guideline yet to have them banned. While  all experts call for a total PFAS ban, as soon as possible, the Commission has not yet made such a move. That is why we ask their attention for our PFAS pesticide report.

Good is that more endocrine disruptors are leaving the scene. This very dangerous class of chemical substances can severely harm the normal development of children and unborn babies in very low doses. However, one of them seems to slip through the wide mazes and is up for renewal.


Bad and dangerous: metconazole, captan, trinexapac-ethyl, pendimethalin

PAN Europe is very concerned about the proposal for the renewal of the broad-spectrum fungicide metconazole. The pesticide and its breakdown product (metabolite) 1,2,4 triazole are respectively suspected of damaging the unborn child (toxic for reproduction category 2) and presumed to damage fertility and the  unborn child (toxic for reproduction category 1B). Metconazole is also (suspected to be) an Endocrine Disruptor (EDC) and classified as a Candidate for Substitution. Its initial authorisation expired in 2017. After 7 yearly prolongations, it would now receive another 7-year reapproval. Metconazole belongs to a group of azole fungicides which is associated with human resistance to a class of medicines that are essential to treat fungal lung infections. Since this fungicide is used on wheat and rapeseed, residues can enter our food chain. We consider the proposal to renew this substance quite absurd.

The EU Commission also proposes to renew the licence for the fungicide captan in greenhouses. Greenhouses are not closed systems, as we have shown in our recent report ‘It rains pesticides from greenhouses’. Captan has been classified as suspected of causing cancer (carcinogenic category 2) and poses long-term high risks to wild mammals, fish, aquatic invertebrates and non-target arthropods in all its uses. It should especially not be on our food and also in no way should reach the environment.

Then there is the proposal to renew the approval for trinexapac-ethyl. This growth regulator – or better called dwarfing agent from Syngenta- is used for rapeseeds and grass. The EU Commission proposes to renew the authorisation, despite two critical areas of concern including the fact that EFSA could not finalise the consumer risk assessment for water and food consumption

Toxic 12 - Pendimethalin

PAN Europe is very disappointed that the Commission requests EFSA to organise a peer review on the B potential of pendimethalin based on the industry data. The data already confirms that Pendimethalin meets the criteria for Persistence (P), Bioaccumulation (B) and Toxicity (T) and must be banned on that ground. The authorisation of this herbicide that we classified as one of the most toxic pesticides in our Toxic 12 campaign expires in November this year. Pendimethalin is suspected of damaging the fertility (toxic for reproduction category 2).  It also has harmful environmental effects as it is classified as very toxic to aquatic life (acute and chronic toxic category 1). This herbicide is authorised in 26 EU Member States.


The Good with delay

The good part is the proposed ban of 3 endocrine disruptors that was already on the December agenda. The idea is that two of them will not be renewed, and the authorisation of another will be withdrawn.

This is the case for the fungicide dimethomorph, also classified since September 2019 as damaging fertility (toxic for reproduction category 1B). It was initially approved from October 2007 till September 2017, and the approval has been prolonged since then. The approval for Mepanipyrim has been prolonged for 10 years in total ever since the initial approval from October 2004 till September 2014. So it’s about time to go for this endocrine disruptor. The same accounts for acibenzolar-S-methyl, an insecticide and so called plant activator, where the producer Syngenta did not supply the demanded information on endocrine disrupting properties.

However, it is unacceptable that the Commission is proposing to renew the approval of the substance metrafenone. No conclusion could be drawn with regard to the endocrine disrupting properties of metrafenone on non-target organisms, so renewal is not in line with the EU pesticide regulation 2009/1107.

In the meantime we’re still waiting for the EU Commission to propose the non-renewal of the herbicides mecoprop-p and metribuzin, both with several critical areas of concern already identified by EFSA.


Downright ugly : failing guidelines on Parkinsons and PFAS

Ugly is the failing implementation of the pesticide regulation. We see a pattern of systematic prolongations of very problematic pesticides. We have objected to this many times and it is part of one of our court cases.

We also see the slow uptake of new scientific insights in the PFAS discussion. In the REACH proposal to ban PFAS substances the pesticide active substances are excluded, because they are already regulated. But the current guidelines do not say anything about this and no pesticide has been banned because it is a PFAS. In our recent report we listed 37 PFAS active substances allowed on fields and food in Europe.


Parkinson-related pesticides – failing guidelines

EFSA recently concluded that the fungicide Folpet presents no critical areas of concern. This prepares the path for its renewal. However, in a recent study folpet was classified as a Parkinson-relevant pesticide. This is another case that exposes the failing guidelines to protect Europeans from neurotoxicity and Parkinsons. Last year we wrote about the EFSA management that effectively blocked pesticide neurotoxicity assessment. Moreover, Folpet is classified as suspected of causing cancer (carcinogen category 2) but an independent analysis shows it should have been classified as presumed carcinogen (category 1) and therefore removed from the market. Moreover it is  very toxic to aquatic life and therefore dangerous for the environment. So we ask the EU Commission to propose a ban for Folpet.


PFAS pesticide re-approved?

The lack of updated guidelines to ban PFAS pesticides leads to the absurd proposal to renew the licence for the herbicide Tritosulfuron. It is an emitter of the very persistent Trifluoraceticacid (TFA).  TFA toxicity for consumers, birds and mammals and aquatic and soil organisms could not be finalised by EFSA when it is emitted by tritosulfuron. EFSA conclusion however shows that it is persistent as well as particularly toxic to aquatic organisms with long term effects (Aquatic acute category 1; Aquatic chronic category 1) according to Regulation (EC) 1272/2008. The authorisation for such a pesticide should not be renewed.

See more details in our Letter to SCoPAFF, January 2024


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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.