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European Union Puts Off Debate to Ban Toxic Pesticide
(from February 20, 2003)

According to Reuters News Service, the European Union plans to outlaw the deadly pesticide aldicarb have been shelved for a few weeks while member states iron out their differences over its safety, diplomats said. This item was erased from the agenda at the last minute because of concern that the proposal might not secure enough support to be adopted under the EU's weighted voting system. Under the current drafting procedure, the vote must take place by the end of next month.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that aldicarb, a worm-killing pesticide used on sugar beet and root vegetables, is one of the most acutely toxic pesticides still in use. Aldicarb is featured on the agenda of the next meeting of EU farm ministers as a candidate for removal from the bloc's markets.

"It seems that they've postponed it until March to try and get a compromise," said an official at the executive European Commission, adding that a few member states still insisted that the dangers posed by aldicarb may have been exaggerated.

According to the WHO website, aldicarb is very soluble in water and highly mobile in soil where it persists for weeks to months. It is frequently found as a contaminant in ground water. In addition, environmental groups have campaigned against aldicarb for years, pointing out that it is highly dangerous for birds, fish and humans. U.S. widespread public concern about aldicarb began in July, 1985 with an epidemic of poisoning that affected approximately 1,000 people who had eaten aldicarb-tainted watermelon. To date, aldicarb has been detected in thousands of wells. While the chemical still enjoys wide use in the U.S., it is restricted.

In Europe, it is used particularly in soil to control nematodes - or microscopic worms - along with chewing and sucking insects attracted to various root crops such as sugar beet, potatoes, carrots, turnips and parsnips.

Diplomats said, although ministers would not debate the aldicarb proposal at their meeting this Thursday, the item would reappear for the next meeting scheduled for March 17 or be subject to a vote at another EU ministerial committee before then. If the ministers agree to remove aldicarb from the EU-wide list of authorized pesticides, it would first be withdrawn from sale, to be followed by a period when it could still be used by farmers, then a period when it would be illegal to store it.