Monday

26th Feb 2024

Analysis

Sweden in UN spotlight over pesticide 'secrecy'

  • The documents held back in Sweden are relevant to a forthcoming decision whether to approve the pesticide chlorpyrifos or not (Photo: Pixabay)

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has decided to take a closer look at Sweden's compliance with UN rules on information in environmental matters.

Their decision follows the rejection of access requests to documents by the Swedish Chemicals Agency and two Swedish courts.

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Such access could harm Sweden's participation in international cooperation, the argument from the authorities went.

But this itself might run counter to the UN Aarhus Convention, signed by Sweden, 44 other countries and the EU. In the case of emissions to the environment release of information should be the default option, that convention states.

The documents held back in Sweden are relevant to a forthcoming decision whether to approve the pesticide chlorpyrifos or not.

As reported by EUobserver, a team of journalists has described: how chlorpyrifos causes brain damage to human foetus and newly-born children, how the present EU-approval is based on studies made and filed by the producer, and how the producer's study has been challenged by experts in environmental medicine and ecotoxicology.

In August, these allegations were echoed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), whose experts recommended zero tolerance for the disputed pesticide in the future.

The present EU-approval expires in January 2020.

To prepare for the forthcoming decision by an EU committee in December, Spain and Poland have since 2017 been preparing a proposal for other member states to discuss - and approve or reject.

This proposal was held back in Sweden - despite of the country's legacy of public access since 1766, and in spite of the country's ratification of the Aarhus Convention. Due to an EU directive adopted in 2003, that convention is binding law in all EU member states

This central document kept back by Sweden was released by EFSA in October - turning the usual pattern upside down. (Sweden has for years been seen as an example on transparency, in contrast to other EU member states and the EU institutions.)

Not necessarily so any longer, it seems.

During an open session with the Aarhus compliance committee in Geneva, the Swedish government argued that the release of the document by EFSA made the complaint about Sweden irrelevant, and should be deemed inadmissible.

The committee did not agree.

This means the Swedish government now has five months to respond to the allegations of being too secretive, and refusing to comply with the UN rules.

Investigation

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Time is running out for chlorpyrifos, the pesticide which is a cause of brain damage to human fetuses and newly-born children. The EU Commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have both stated approval should not be renewed.

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Scientists say there is no acceptable dose to avoid brain damage. Its use is banned in several European countries. Yet its residues are found in fruit baskets, on dinner plates, and in human urine samples from all over Europe.

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Pesticide producers push back to halt EU ban

A majority of EU member states are believed to be in favour of not renewing approval for the pesticides chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl, when they meet in Brussels later this week.

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