Strong opposition by Member States and environmental and health NGOs caused the European Commission yesterday to give in and apply more precaution in authorising highly toxic pesticides. Next Monday, 18 September, the Council is planning to reject at least two of the eight(1) proposed market authorisation decisions (azinphos-methyl and vinclozolin(2)). Fearing it would fail to secure Council's support on the remaining six, the Commission yesterday amended six decisions(3) it had proposed to the Council on 12 June.
The Commission now plans to phase out four of the six remaining pesticides (fenarimol, flusilazole, methamidophos, procymidone) after an 18-month delay. But the Commission has indicated it may continue to authorise the remaining two, produced by Bayer(4) and Dow(5) setting an arbitrary time-limit of three years before their final ban. Environmental and health NGOs have been campaigning since the beginning of the year for a total ban of all substances.
Current EU pesticides laws indicate that human health and the environment ought to override short-term economic interests, in this case those of multinational pesticide companies such as Dow, Bayer, DuPont and BASF. After exchanges between the Commission and these companies in August 2005, the Commission changed its original intention to ban the 8 pesticides and decided to overturn the opinion of Member States' scientific experts who had expressed their strongest concern.
"This is an extremely timid step on the path to the total phase-out of unacceptable active substances with carcinogenic, mutagenic, hormone-disrupting, neurotoxic, and repro-toxic properties, in light of the new Commission's proposal for a new Pesticides Policy", said Grazia Cioci, PAN Europe Campaign Coordinator. "The Commission only changed its position 'in extremis', which shows its lack of commitment to the precautionary principle with legislative proposals".
These developments highlight the need for better decision-making rules, including greater transparency, clear cut-off criteria for hazardous pesticides and provisions to replace them with safer chemical and non-chemical alternatives. Although the new Regulation revising current pesticides authorisation policy includes these provisions, environmental and health NGOs are concerned at the current proposal's lack of ambition and that it restricts the list of pesticides to be substituted to a few extremely hazardous substances that may remain on sale for up to seven years.
"We appreciate that the Commission has moved towards greater precaution. But only following heavy criticism and years of contamination did it reluctantly take this small step," said Stefan Scheuer, EEB's EU Policy Director. "In future we need more effective and transparent decision-making, which serves public interest."
"EU Governments should be doing everything they can to encourage safer alternatives to hazardous pesticides. We need a strong and consistent line to protect public health and the environment and to promote sustainable farming", said Aleksandra Kordecka, Chemicals Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.
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Notes to editors:
- Azinphos-methyl, carbendazim, dinocap, fenarimol, flusilazole, methamidophos, procymidone and vinclozolin
- BASF has applied for authorisation of vinclozolin, a pesticide which has hormone disrupting potential and poses risk to birds, mammals and aquatic organisms.
- Bayer has applied for authorisation of carbendazim, a pesticide which is mutagenic, toxic to reproduction and poses risk to earthworms.
- Dow has applied for authorisation of dinocarp, a pesticide which is toxic to reproduction and poses risk to the operators.