(Beyond Pesticides, June 30, 2008) The European Union’s (EU) agricultural ministers have agreed to revise pesticide restrictions across the 27-member state. The draft proposals ban pesticides that are known to cause cancer, endocrine disruption, or reproductive harm in humans, affecting up to 15 percent of currently used products. However, in “exceptional cases, when available products do not offer sufficiently effective plant protection, other hazardous substances may be used, but only under strictly regulated conditions.” The agreement’s next step is parliamentary approval, where lawmakers could make the final rule even stricter.The proposal would push farmers and chemical companies to replace the most toxic products with alternatives, remove provisional licenses for pesticides not yet registered with the EU, restrict the use of crop-dusters, and ban pesticides near sensitive areas.“One of the main aims of the proposal is to maintain a high level of protection for humans, animals and the environment. This is essential for our citizens,” said EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, who advocated for this ban in May. “We will not authorize what is known to be harmful for public health.”
Hungary, the Irish Republic, Romania, and the UK abstained from voting, citing risk of crop yields and lack of research on the alternative pest control options available. “We cannot support measures that would have significant adverse impacts on crop protection,” said UK Environmental Secretary Hilary Benn.
The industry representative European Crop Protection Association argued that a ban on hazardous products is unnecessary. “Proper risk evaluations of products are required to determine this, taking the dose and actual use into consideration – just as coffee and alcohol are hazardous at high doses, normal use poses no risk to health,” said the group’s head, Friedhelm Schmider.
Not only does Schmider’s statement misrepresent some of the most toxic pesticides as safe, he makes no mention of human exposure to low levels of chemicals. (For recent research on health effects of low-dose pesticide exposure, see “Facing Scientific Realities.”) As Slovenian Agriculture Minister Iztok Jarc said, the new rules would ensure “the high standards needed to prevent harmful effects of plant protection products on human and animal health or the environment.”