MEPs have started their second reading of the EU’s controversial plans to revamp the pesticides approvals process, introducing new cut-off criteria.

Green German MEP Hiltrud Breyer presented her report to the European parliament’s environment committee on Monday (6 October), recommending numerous changes to the so-called “common position” reached by agriculture ministers last June.

Under this common position, the established risk-based system of pesticide approvals would be replaced with a hazard-based one.

Specifically, pesticides containing active ingredients that are mutagenic, carcinogenic, reprotoxic or endocrine disrupting would be banned.

But Ms Breyer’s report goes further, reinstating many of the more draconian measures the European parliament voted for at its first reading a year ago.

In particular, she has included two additional cut-off criteria, which would ban active ingredients “considered to cause a risk of developmental neurotoxic or immunotoxic properties in humans”. “Neurological diseases and diseases affecting the immune system are on the increase. Substances with such effects should not be approved,” said the report.

Ms Breyer goes on to suggest that no active ingredients should be approved that are considered toxic for bees, as research has shown that “bees exposed to pesticides suffer a loss of orientation”.

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And she is seeking to scrap a derogation, contained in the Council’s common position, that would allow the continued use for up to five years of pesticides that would otherwise be banned, if there are no alternatives available.

An impact assessment carried out earlier this year by the UK’s Pesticides Safety Directorate suggested that these amendments would result in around 85% of current crop protection products being removed from the market, with a dramatic impact on crop yields.

This has prompted many organisations, including Farmers Weekly through our Save our Sprays campaign, to demand a full EU-wide impact assessment before any decisions are taken.

But presenting her paper, Ms Breyer told her fellow MEPs that impact assessments such as the PSD’s, and others in the pipeline, were exaggerated, designed to create panic and flood them with information. This view was supported by the EU Commission at the meeting.

Other MEPs indicated that they could accept the Council’s common position.

The committee has been given until 10 October to table any amendments to the Breyer paper, and will vote on 5 November. The EU Commission, the agriculture council and the parliament will then try and negotiate a final package, to be voted on in December or January.