24th Oct 2016

MEPs adopt controversial pesticides regulation

The European Parliament has adopted key legislation on pesticides, banning certain products and establishing stringent approval procedures. The watered-down proposals nevertheless met with opposition from farmers and pesticides manufactures.

On Tuesday (23 October), the parliament overwhelmingly voted in favour of a new regulation on the approval and use of pesticides, in a first reading of the European Commission-proposed rules.

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The rules now need to be approved by a majority of the 27 EU member states to enter into force.

Under the pesticides package, a specific directive is included that bans aerial spraying of chemicals - though derogations are allowed in specific circumstances - because the impact on nearby ecosystems is considered to be too big.

MEPs also agreed that pesticide use should be banned or restricted to a minimum in public areas such as parks, schools, playgrounds, and hospitals. Substantial no-spray zones around these areas need to be set up.

"This is something consumers want. They don't want poison on their plates, they don't want poison in their environment," said German green MEP Hiltrud Breyer.

The new legislation comes as a response to the growing body of evidence that links the use of pesticides to cancer. Certain pesticides also adversely affect the human hormonal, nervous, reproductive and immune systems.

But the parliament watered down specific key sections of the European Commission's proposals.

Watered-down package

One of the most controversial parts of the proposed legislation - the establishment of ten metre pesticide-free "buffer zones" around rivers and lakes - was rejected by MEPs.

Such a zone would have restricted pesticide use in most parks, gardens, golf courses and smaller farmlands, leading to a steep reduction of the farmland eligible for pesticide use in certain countries, such as the Netherlands.

The parliament also did not support the commission's controversial plan to cut the use of pesticides by 25 percent in five years and by 50 percent within ten years across the EU.

Reduction goals will now be left to member states instead except for some "substances of high concern."

MEPs also gave their approval to a two-layered approval system for pesticides. On the level of the EU, a positive list of active substances will be drawn up – which will be used at the national level to allow a new type of pesticide on the market.

Most new substances need to gain an initial approval of ten years, but if a non-chemical alternative can be used instead, the approval period is limited to five years.

MEPs rejected an amendment which would oblige farmers to inform neighbours in advance if they plan to spray their land, but the product authorisation procedure "may" include a condition of use which requires such a warning.

Widespread criticism

Farmer organisations and pesticide manufacturers reacted with criticism to the new regulation, saying that certain parasites and diseases will no longer be able to be treated, food prices will rise and jobs are at stake.

"European consumers repeatedly say they want more, affordable, fresh fruit and vegetables that are produced locally. But MEPs today made it harder to meet that demand by denying farmers the tools they need to produce sufficient quantity at a price that is affordable to all," director general of the European Crop Protection Association Friedhelm Schmider said.

"This also puts at risk the EU agri-food industry, which is a global leader, and depends on agriculture's raw materials to maintain its productivity and competitiveness", he added arguing that the industry would now be forced to import more food from outside the EU.

The principle of substituting pesticides with non-chemical alternatives is unpopular with the chemicals industry, as products that have cost millions of euro to research and develop could be taken out of the market after a mere five years.

But Green MEP's are also disappointed, saying that the final version of the legislation does not go far enough.

In particular, the establishment of a clear buffer zone around water courses was considered essential by the Greens.

"A [ten meter pesticide-free] buffer zone is perceived to be a too large burden on farmers. But there are enough possibilities to compensate farmers that lose arable land because of a spray-free zone by providing subsidies", said Dutch green MEP Kathalijne Buitenweg.

"It's going to take a lot of money to purify the drinking water contaminated with agricultural poison," she added.

The EU, which only has about 4% of the world's arable land, produces about 230,000 tons of pesticide a year, a quarter of the world's total.

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