The EU will ban three problematic pesticides only to continue 15 more

The EU is falling increasingly behind in protecting health and the environment. In this week's meeting, the responsible authorities will discuss a ban on three very problematic pesticides. At the same time they vote to renew the licence for 2 others and prolong 13 more. These include five PFAS pesticides, an endocrine disruptor, several neurotoxins and other chemicals with very toxic properties. Other very toxic substances waiting for a ban are missing from the agenda. This way to address the pesticide problem is too little, too late. The systematic pattern of prolongation of highly problematic substances is a violation of EU law and should stop. They should have gone a long time ago and should be banned now. This reflection and our expert letter explain why.

This week is the last Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (SCoPAFF) meeting for this year. Regulatory experts will represent the EU member states and discuss and vote on behalf of their countries. We will take you through the headlines of the agenda.


Finally a ban on three very problematic substances

The EU Commission proposes to ban three problematic substances because they disrupt the hormone system and can cause harm at very low doses. The herbicide Asulam sodium and the fungicides dimethomorph and mepanipyrim are all proven endocrine disruptors.

Regarding Asulam sodium, the pesticide industry saw the inevitable coming, so it just withdrew its application for approval. However, the key reason for not approving the substance is that it's an endocrine disruptor and that is a cut-off criterion in the EU. This means it can no longer be approved.

Dimethomorph is not only an endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC) but also toxic for reproduction. This is another cut-off criterion (Cat 1B) and it has been known since 2019. So it is about time the commission proposes a ban. Far too many people and the environment have been exposed to this substance for far too long. It was initially approved from October 2007 till September 2017, and the approval has been prolonged since then.

Mepanipyrim has a similar story. Already in 2017, there was a critical area of concern: high risk for wild mammals. This was sufficient reason to have it banned at that time. Yet the approval has been prolonged for 10 years in total since the initial approval from October 2004 till September 2014. 


Withdrawal of another Endocrine Disrupting Chemical (EDC)

The Commission also proposes the withdrawal of the authorisation for the fungicide acibenzolar-S-methyl. It was approved from November 2001 till December 2015. Since then it has been renewed, waiting for a conclusion on its endocrine-disrupting properties on the condition that the applicant submits additional information. Syngenta did not deliver the required data. Rapporteur Member State France considered the confirmatory data incomplete. The developmental neurotoxicity study showed serious problems like morphometric changes in the cerebellum and increased auditory startle amplitude. This means there is evidence of endocrine-disrupting properties (a cut-off criterion) and the substance should not have been approved in the first place.

See more on endocrine disruptors in our October blog: EU bans 6 dangerous pesticides: Herbicide S-Metolachlor and 5 Endocrine Disruptors


Problematic pattern of systematic prolongations

The EU Commission is proposing to prolong the approval of 13 other very harmful substances for another year. This is caused by the problematic pattern of systematic prolongations. Pending a final decision on an active substance the authorisations are each time prolonged. Even if serious evidence of concerns exists, it often takes many, many years to come to a conclusion. We have described the many loopholes that give industry and member states ample time to delay the final conclusion. 

The result is yearly prolongations of the admission for very problematic pesticides for up to 10 years as we see in the examples above. In all these years, people and biodiversity have been unnecessarily exposed to very harmful chemicals. This is against the precautionary principle in the EU pesticide law. These substances should be banned immediately when there is proof of serious concerns and the renewals should be out of the question. This is the subject of our pending court case against the systematic prolongation of permits for toxic pesticides that we started in 2022.


Prolongation of permit for PFAS Pesticides and neurotoxic substances?

The insecticide Buprofezin has been identified as an endocrine disruptor for humans by EFSA and this should lead to a ban.

Five of the 13 prolonged substances are listed as PFAS in the European proposal for a universal restriction of PFAS chemicals: Cyflufenamid, Fluazinam, Fluopyram, Flutolanil and Lambda-cyhalothrin. According to their application dossiers, these substances are particularly harmful to the environment. They are persistent, toxic to aquatic life and some show endocrine disruption in wildlife. The proposed extension permits them to be deliberately and directly emitted into food and into the environment. All PFAS pesticides need to be banned immediately. See our recent report on PFAS pesticides.

Lambda-cyhalotrin is not only a PFAS. The insecticide is authorised in all 27 EU Member States and is of grave concern for human health. In the scientific literature, it is consistently reported to have endocrine-disrupting and neurotoxic properties. It is a Candidate for Substitution and part of the Toxic 12 pesticides that should be banned immediately.

The other problematic substances are benzovindiflupyr, bromuconazole, mecoprop-P, mepiquat, mepanipyrim, metsulfuron-methyl, phosphane and pyraclostrobin.. 

Some of them, like the fungicide Bromucolazole (and the closely related Difenoconazole and Thiabendazole) have an endocrine-disrupting mode of action. They also induce the very dangerous azole resistance. This can lead to severe problems in the treatment of Aspergillosis, a fungal infection in humans.


What is missing: delay for Toxic 12 herbicide Pendimethalin and more

We see a delay in assessing the toxicity of pesticides. There are others that should be banned as soon as possible, but that are not on the agenda. 

Missing on the agenda is the herbicide pendimethalin, one of our list of Toxic 12, authorised in 26 EU Member States. It is toxic to reproduction (class R2) and can lead to developmental effects. It affects the thyroid and can cause chromosome aberrations. It is an endocrine disruptor according to the EU Joint Research Centre (JRC). It is also very harmful to the environment. It is classified as very toxic to aquatic life. 

Despite this, the poison was reapproved as a candidate for substitution as it fulfilled the criteria as persistent (P) and toxic (T). In its peer review which preceded this renewal decision, EFSA could not exclude the bioaccumulation (B) potential of the substance. As a result, the renewal was conditioned on the submission of further confirmatory information regarding the potential for bioaccumulation. Now this information is available and confirms that pendimethalin meets the PBT criteria. We already called on the SCoPAFF members in October to invite the Commission to propose a withdrawal of the approval. We also wrote a letter to DG ENVI with the same question. It has been in our environment far too long.


Need to identify and ban neurotoxic pesticides related to Parkinson’s

Also missing on the agenda is the assessment of the fungicides Captan and the related Folpet, widely used in conventional fruit production. Folpet is identified as a Parkinson's pesticide by US researchers. Researchers have identified 10 pesticides toxic to neurons involved in Parkinson’s. The EFSA completely fails to address this issue with the necessary urgency, as was highlighted in our article on the failing neurotoxicity assessment of pesticides.

For more details read here our December 2023 letter to SCoPAFF.

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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.