Several key weedkillers and fungicides could be saved from the threat of withdrawal after an apparent climbdown by the European parliament’s environment committee.

In the parliament’s first reading of the controversial pesticides approval legislation, MEPs voted for a proposal that would remove any pesticide that triggered any of the three criteria (persistence, bio-accumulation and long-distance environmental transfer) for an active ingredient to be termed a “persistent organic pollutant” (POP).

By contrast, the European Commission and EU agricultural minister both say a substance will be called a POP only if it meets all three criteria.

That position now appears to have been accepted by Hiltrud Breyer, the German MEP rapporteur, in her report to fellow MEPs on the parliament’s environmental committee.

The climbdown could save as many as 35 active ingredients named by the UK’s Pesticides Safety Directorate as potential substances that would be removed by the parliament’s original proposal for meeting one of the POP criteria.

A total of 19 herbicides had been identified by the PSD as failing a single POP criterion, including residual weedkillers diflufenican and chlorotoluron, as well as mesosulfuron-methyl, one of the active ingredients in Atlantis, widely used for blackgrass control in wheat. The retreat should mean all three will be available for use after any reform.

Key fungicide chlorothalonil, seen by many researchers as crucial to maintain the activity of triazoles against septoria, the main yield-robbing disease in wheat, should also now remain available. Other fungicides on PSD’s single POP list include cyprodinil, used particularly in barley, and silthiofam, the take-all seed treatment Latitude.

“It is a big deal for those products,” Colin Ruscoe of the British Crop Production Council told Farmers Weekly. “But there are still a lot of other products that will cause many problems for farmers if they go.”

Recent public statements by Ms Breyer have also suggested she intended it to be possible to renew approvals for active ingredients identified as candidates for replacement if safer alternatives did not exist, contrary to the PSD’s interpretation of the amendment.

Ms Breyer has clarified this in a recently tabled amendment to her report published earlier this month, according to an unofficial draft of amendments seen by Farmers Weekly.

In her justification for the amendment, she says: “This amendment should also clarify that parliament never adopted a position that would have meant an automatic phase-out of candidates for substitution. Such phase-out is only required when a series of conditions is fulfilled.”

The PSD had identified well over 100 pesticides that it said would be designated as candidates for substitution, including strobilurin fungicides, metaldehyde (slug pellets) and propyzamide (Kerb).

An ability to renew approvals for these products until safer alternatives were available would significantly reduce the agronomic impact of the parliament’s proposals.

The parliament’s amendments would still leave many insecticides at risk from withdrawal because of Ms Breyer’s proposal not to approve any insecticide considered toxic to bees.

And the Commission’s proposal could see the removal of triazole fungicides from market if they meet as-yet undefined endocrine disruption criteria.

Key ‘POP’ failing fungicides

  • Chlorothalonil (Bravo)
  • Cyprodinil (Unix/Kayak)
  • Metrafenone (Flexity)
  • Silthiofam (Latitude)

Key ‘POP’ failing herbicides

  • Amidosulfuron (Eagle)
  • Chlorotoluron
  • Clopyralid (Dow Shield)
  • Diflufenican
  • Lenacil
  • Diquat
  • Metazachlor
  • Mesosulfuron-methyl (part of Atlantis)