The EU Commission has challenged claims that its plans to revamp the EU pesticide approvals process will lead to a massive drop in the availability of crop protection products, with a consequent drop in food production.

According to the UK’s Pesticides Safety Directorate, the proposals, which introduce new “cut-off criteria” and are due to go to the European parliament in October, will eliminate at least 15% of current sprays from the market. This could rise to 85% if MEPs get their way.

But, in a letter sent to the HGCA, the commission says the claim is “unjustified”. “This impact assessment is based only on a worse case scenario and on unrealistic figures,” it says. “In fact, the commission proposal would affect only a few substances, which are the most problematic ones for human health and the environment.”

According to senior commission official Robert Madelin, who wrote the letter, “it can be firmly stated that the approval criteria proposed by the commission will not reduce the availability of pesticides.” Furthermore, the industry would have plenty of time to adapt, as most of the affected chemicals would not be withdrawn until 2016.

But the PSD says it stands by its impact assessment which was based on the best information available at the time. “There are still many uncertainties in the commission’s proposals and this is our best estimate, taking the pesticides that are currently available and our understanding of how the cut off criteria could apply,” said a spokesman.

The fact the European parliament also wants to introduce more cut-off criteria could take far more products off the market – a key point of concern in our Save Our Sprays campaign.

The commission’s letter was sent in response to an earlier letter from HGCA chairman Jonathan Tipples to EU health commissioner Androulla Vassiliou. This highlighted the “very serious” yield and quality losses, if the current proposals were put in place.

“We could only produce about two-thirds of the current yield with a wholly organic production system,” it said. “For current production to be maintained, in the absence of key pesticides, an additional 3.29m ha of land would be required.”

The loss of triazoles would be particularly damaging, as they were essential to make up for the development of resistance to strobilurins in recent years.

“Our concern is that we still have no detail as to which actives will be lost,” said an HGCA spokesman. “One of the keys to this is the definition of an ‘endocrine disruptor’ and whether or not this includes important groups such as triazoles.”

If you share our concerns about the future of pesticides in productive agriculture, sign our e-petition now.