PAN Europe requests to end the use of very toxic pesticides in greenhouses

Recently the European Commission has renewed the approval for some very toxic pesticides, restricting utilisation to greenhouses. The EU institutions’ falsely treat permanent greenhouses as closed spaces preventing the release of pesticides into the environment. The EFSA guidance document explains that “high-tech greenhouses, usually perceived to be ‘closed systems’, may still result in [...] leakages into the environment”[1]. Scientific findings confirm that greenhouses are clearly leaking pesticides. Therefore, PAN Europe has sent an official request to the European Commission. We challenge the approach that does not ensure the level of protection for human health and the environment imposed by EU law.

In April 2022, the approval of the bee-toxic insecticide sulfoxaflor was renewed with a restriction of use to permanent greenhouses, by the European Commission. In May 2022, the approval of bifenazate - highly toxic to farmers and the environment - was also renewed for use in greenhouses only. In March 2023, the active substance abamectin - highly toxic to birds, bees and soil life - was reapproved under the same conditions. 

End of April, PAN Europe submitted a Request for Internal Review to the European Commission on the reapproval of the active substance abamectin published in March 2023, initiating its first steps against the institutions’ behaviour regarding the use of pesticides in greenhouses. The request addressed the European institutions’ false belief that (permanent) greenhouses are closed spaces preventing the release of pesticides into the environment.


What is a greenhouse?

According to the Cambridge dictionary, a greenhouse is defined as “a building with a roof and sides made of glass, used for growing plants that need warmth and protection”[2]. The Encyclopedia Britannica further develops on the technicalities of modern greenhouses “The modern greenhouse is usually a glass- or plastic-enclosed framed structure that is used for the production of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and any other plants that require special conditions of temperature. The basic structural forms are the span-type greenhouse, which has a double-sloped, or A-shaped, roof, and the lean-to greenhouse, which has only one roof slope and leans against the side of a building”[3]. Countless other technical sources and dictionaries define greenhouses in similar ways.

As for the legal definition of greenhouses, no harmonious definition seems available. For instance, Belgium defines greenhouses as “structures large enough to walk on and large enough to walk inside and whose roof and sides are impermeable”[4]. Germany defines greenhouses as “a walk-in, stationary, self-contained production location for cultivated plants with a transparent outer shell”[5].

At the EU level, Regulation (EC) 1107/2009 proposed a “unique” definition of greenhouses. Article 3(27) defines greenhouses are “walk-in, static, closed places of crop production with a usually translucent outer shell, which allows the controlled exchange of material and energy with the surroundings and prevents the release of plant protection products into the environment”.

From this definition, roots the re-approval of active substances that are toxic for the environment and/or human health, such as abamectin, under the restriction of use to permanent greenhouses.


Request Content: reasoning on greenhouses unscientific and contradicted by facts

As previously said, the case of abamectin is not unique and the European Commission has practice in renewing certain active substances by restricting their use to permanent greenhouses. Such restrictions take root in Article 6(e) of Regulation 1107/ 2009. The article states that “approval may be subject to conditions and restrictions including, manner and conditions of application”, for instance, the restriction of the use of an active substance to greenhouses only. In practice, this means that the risk assessment of these substances demonstrated an unacceptable risk to citizens and the environment. However, these restrictions on uses in greenhouses only are addressing, in theory, the concerns identified in the risk assessment to allow the renewal of the approval for these substances.

PAN Europe identified that the European Commission is repetitively misusing the concept of greenhouses as a solution to the identified problem based on the preconception that (permanent) greenhouses would “prevent the release of plant protection products into the environment and mitigating the high risk identified to aquatic organisms and wild terrestrial non-target organisms”[6] to quote Regulation (EU) 2023/515 reapproving abamectin.

However, greenhouses in practice are not closed spaces and do not prevent the release of pesticides into the environment. The European Commission is well aware of this. Indeed, in 2014, EFSA published a guidance document “ranking the emissions of active substances of plant protection products and transformation products of these active substances from protected crops (greenhouses and crops grown under cover”. The guidance document was later endorsed by the European Commission and the members of the Standing Committee of Plants, Animals, Food and Feed through a SANCO Guidance[7]. Additionally, the European Commission in its Guidance on negligible exposure states that “it is not possible to demonstrate ‘closed systems’ throughout the entire life-cycle of a plant protection product”(p.9). It further establishes that “high-tech greenhouses, usually perceived to be ‘closed systems’, may still result in [...] leakages into the environment are also possible”[8].

Scientific findings confirm that greenhouses are clearly leaking pesticides into the environment. For instance, to quote only one amongst a plethora of scientific literature, a recent Swedish study[9] analysed surface water downstream next to 7 professional greenhouses (vegetables, ornamentals) every 14 days for one year. Of the 28 allowed pesticides in the greenhouses (based on monitoring of the growers), 25 were detected in the monitored surface water, while, according to the legal definition, none should be found.


Request Content: what is abamectin and why it should be banned

Abamectin is an insecticide as well as an acaricide (miticide). Abamectin is a classified reprotoxic (R2) that demonstrated negative effects on offspring (foetal development and mortality, sex ratio alteration and resorptions, decreased pup weight and decreased live fetus) in animal testing. A single dose of a chemical during a critical window can potentially lead to abnormal development, which effect might be observed later (such as delayed puberty). Furthermore, negative effects were observed in animal studies on sexual organs (reduced sperm number and motility, testis histopathology (tubular damage), decreased estrus cycle and increased testis weight).

Additionally, in its 2022 Peer review, EFSA identified a lack of data on the genotoxicity nature of the substance. Yet, the European Commission still ignored such risk and proposed their decision. Genotoxicity (aneugenicity, an abnormal number of chromosomes) is a very serious effect that should have been investigated at the start of the entire assessment of abamectin since it is an exclusion criterion (no exposure to humans allowed).

Moreover, EFSA’s 2022 Peer Review[10] concludes that the risk assessment on consumers could not be finalised (Critical area of concern), which has been ignored by the European Commission by re-approving the active substance to the European market. Choosing, in contradiction with Regulation 1107/2009 and the precautionary principle, to prioritise profit over the protection of the consumer’s health.


What to expect from the Request for Internal Review?

The 'Aarhus regulation'[11] gives access to justice to civil society on environmental matters. Since 2021, a legislative change[12] allows NGOs to challenge the approval of pesticides at the EU level. According to the Aarhus regulation, the first step of a legal procedure is to send a 'Request for Internal Review' to the European Commission, asking to reconsider its decision. The Commission has 16 weeks to answer. If the answer is not deemed satisfactory, the NGO can submit an official complaint to the Court of Justice of the EU.

In this request, PAN Europe is requesting the European Commission to carry out a complete internal review of Implementing Regulation 2023/515 re-approving Abamectin, to verify its compliance with EU environmental law. PAN Europe is now awaiting an answer, the European Commission has to answer by written answer no later than 16 weeks after receipt of the request. The next steps will depend on this answer, and on whether or not the European Commission is willing to reconsider the re-approval of Abamectin, and more generally the practice of authorising dangerous pesticides to (permanent) greenhouses use without a proper risk assessment and analysis of greenhouses emissions into the environment.



[1] Technical guidance on the interpretation of points 3.6.3. to 3.6.5, and 3.8.2 of Annex II to Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009, in particular regarding the assessment of negligible exposure to an active substance in a plant protection product under realistic conditions of use” (SANCO-2014-12096), p.9.





[6] COMMISSION IMPLEMENTING REGULATION (EU) 2023/515 of 8 March 2023 renewing the approval of the active substance abamectin in accordance with Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council, and amending Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 540/2011, alinea 13.

[7] SANCO/12184/2014 – rev. 5.1, 14 July 2015.

[8] Technical guidance on the interpretation of points 3.6.3. to 3.6.5, and 3.8.2 of Annex II to Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009, in particular regarding the assessment of negligible exposure to an active substance in a plant protection product under realistic conditions of use” (SANCO-2014-12096), p.9.

[9] Kristin Boye, Gustaf Boströma, Ove Jonsson, Mikaela Gönczi, Klara Löfkvist, Jenny Kreuger, Greenhouse production contributes to pesticide occurrences in Swedish streams, Science of the Total Environment 809 (2022) 152215


[11] Regulation (EC) 1367/2006 on the application of the provisions of the Aarhus Convention

[12] Regulation (EC) 2021/1767 amending the 'Aarhus regulation'

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