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23rd Sep 2018

New pesticides committee begins work on EU approvals

  • Chair of the new pesticide approval committee Eric Andrieu MEP, at the inaugural meeting this week - alongside vice-chair Kathleen Van Brempt from the S&D

The European Parliament's committee on pesticides (PEST) held its inaugural meeting on Monday (12 March) with a mission to shed light on the controversial EU approval procedure - even though its actual mandate will not assure a legislative follow-up.

PEST is parliament's reply to the concerns raised by some one million European citizens, plus MEPs and NGOs, around the EU's renewal of glyphosate – used in Monsanto's Roundup.

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  • The committee is the EU parliament's reply to the concerns raised by some one million European citizens, plus MEPs and NGOs (Photo: Felix Kindermann / Campact)

The product was granted a five-year renewal in December despite doubts about its "probable cancerogenic" nature raised by the International Agency for Research on Cancer - but overruled by two EU agencies.

"We have a duty to succeed, restoring the confidence of the citizens in the European process of approval of the pesticides, " said S&D MEP Eric Andrieu, the committee chair.

Citizens have to be sure "that the food they eat, the air they breathe or the water they drink are free of molecules that are dangerous to their health," Andrieu told EUobserver.

"It's good to see that the parliament is taking the issue of pesticides, and the danger to health and the environment, seriously," Franziska Achterberg from Greenpeace told this website.

After nine months work, the committee will present a report to the parliament of recommended measures to be taken - although they will only be recommendations, with no legal power.

Mandate

According to its mandate, PEST will assess the "potential failures in the scientific evaluation" of the approval of active substances by relevant EU agencies and whether these agencies "are adequately staffed and financed" to conduct independent research.

The European Food Safety Authority – one of the two agencies involved in pesticides approval – has "only an €80m budget, four times less than that of the European Medicines Agency - €322 million," Andrieu told EUobserver.

The committee will also check compliance by the European Commission with EU law and assess "possible conflicts of interest at all levels of the approval procedure."

"All these 'threads' will have to be weaved patiently, of course, but with determination," explained Andrieu.

The background to the formation of the committee was leaks, published in March 2017, suggesting the two EU agencies had "copy-pasted" some of Monsanto's scientific assessments to prepare their scientific evaluation that glyphosate was unlikely to be carcinogenic.

Composition of committee?

The 30 members of PEST come from all the parliament's political groups, and most are members of one or more of other the concerned committees - environment (ENVI), agriculture (AGRI) and industry (ITRE).

MEPs are divided between glyphosate critics - the majority - and supporters, according to research by EUobserver.

However, all of them are "committed members on pesticide issues," according to Andrieu. "The plurality of opinions will have to be heard in order to make the results of the work irreproachable," he said.

Those MEPs critical of glyphosate took part in a number of parliamentary initiatives to ban the herbicide, or to postpone its renewal, and asked for other clarifications about pesticides in general.

In October 2017, four members of PEST prepared a text - later adopted by the environment committee - calling on the commission to withdraw its proposal to renew glyphosate.

Some of PEST's members also asked parliamentary questions, such as that on glyphosate residues and imports.

Besides these purely parliamentary procedures, six PEST MEPs sent a letter to the European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker asking for clarifications about the revision of pesticides legislation.

A similar letter, calling for the stopping of the authorisation procedure and signed by eight MEPs from the committee, was sent to health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis.

On the other side, the 'pro-glyphosate' front includes MEPs Pilar Ayuso and Norbert Lins from the centre-right EPP, and the British MEP Anthea McIntyre from the eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).

In November McIntyre responded to a petition signed by over one million European citizens demanding a complete ban of glyphosate by saying that"it's time to take a lead and tell the public and decision makers alike that glyphosate has been safe for 40 years and remains safe."

On the same occasion Spanish MEP Ayuso asked citizens' representatives: "What have you got against Monsanto?"

"The issue at stake in our collective work will be to bring together divergent opinions on the major issue of human health for 500 million Europeans," explained Andrieu, talking about the PEST committee. "We have to ensure that our procedures are transparent and independent of the financial interests of industry."

First full meeting in April

At PEST's first meeting on Monday, Andrieu - who, alongside S&D Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella called for the establishment of the committee - was appointed as PEST's chair.

ECR Polish MEP Bolesław Piecha, Belgian ALDE MEP Frederique Ries and Czech GUE/NGL MEP Katerina Konecna were appointed vice-chairs, while EPP MEP Norbert Lins and Green/ALE MEP Bart Staes became co-rapporteurs.

A calendar of works is expected to be decided on 22 March, while the first working meeting is scheduled for 12 April.

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