(Beyond Pesticides, March 20, 2009) On March 12, the European Commission said it made an important step forward in its efforts to ensure improved protection of human health and the environment, as it completed the review of existing pesticides that were on the market before 1993. This program concerned about 1,000 substances contained in tens of thousands of products that were on the market in 1993. All reviewed pesticides have undergone a detailed risk evaluation with respect to their effects on humans and on the environment. The review is a joint effort by the Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the EU Member States.
EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said: “Today represents a milestone in our effort to ensure improved protection of human health and the environment. The review of existing pesticides has lead to the removal from the market of more than two thirds of these substances. I can now say with confidence that our food has become greener.”
Council Directive 91/414/EEC lays down a comprehensive risk assessment and authorization procedure for active substances and products containing these substances. Each active substance was evaluated as to whether it could be used safely with respect to human health (consumers, farmers, local residents and passers-by) and the environment, in particular groundwater and non-target organisms, such as birds, mammals, earthworms, bees, in order to be marketed. If the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) determined that the substance has “no harmful effect on human or animal health and that it has no unacceptable impact on the environment,” the substance was approved.
The European Commission has created an EU list of approved active substances and Member States may only authorize plant protection products, containing such substances, which are included in this list. This review provides assurances that the EU finds the substances currently on the market acceptable to human health and the environment and are in accordance with European-wide criteria. Until this review was finalized, the level of protection could vary widely and national rules on substances could continue to apply.
Of some 1,000 active substances on the market in at least one Member State before 1993, 26 percent, corresponding to about 250 substances, have passed the harmonized EU safety assessment. The majority of substances (67 percent) have been eliminated because dossiers were either not submitted, or were incomplete or were withdrawn by the industry. About 70 substances failed the review and have been removed from the market, because the evaluation carried out did not show safe use with respect to human health and the environment. These pesticides include those which are genotoxic, carcinogenic, immunotoxic, and certain endocrine disruptors. Such chemicals may be used for up to five more years if they are “essential” to crop production, or up to three if less toxic alternatives are available.
Since March 16, a database on active substances has been available on the website of the European Commission. The EU’s aim is to guarantee transparent and up-to-date information on the EU pesticide legislation.
For more background information on the EU’s risk assessment for these products, visit their website.