Large numbers of pesticides are to be lost to agriculture, after agreement in Brussels on new rules for approving plant protection products.

Negotiators from the EU Commission, the French presidency and the European parliament struck a deal late on Wednesday night (17 December), introducing a new system of product approvals based on cut-off criteria.

Under the agreement, products will be banned if they contain ingredients which are carcinogenic, mutagenic, reprotoxic or endocrine disrupting, unless their impact is negligible.

The European parliament was also keen to ban pesticides which show neurotoxic or immunotoxic effects. This would have had a particularly damaging impact on the availability of insecticides, notably pyrethroids, according to a recent Pesticides Safety Directorate study.

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But this part of the package was watered down so that, where there is a significant risk of these effects, extra safety margins can be built in, but not an outright ban.

A derogation has also been built into the package so that where a product is needed to fight a serious danger to plant health and no alternative exists, it may be approved for up to five years, even if it does not meet the safety criteria.

One of the main sticking points in the negotiation – and potentially the most damaging part of the package – was the definition of “endocrine disrupting”.

In the absence of a proper, scientific definition, it was agreed to use a temporary definition, based on recent work by Swedish scientists. Where a product produces such effects, then it shall be banned. The PSD predicts that many triazoles, central to controlling septoria, will be lost as a consequence.

Zonal approach

The agreement will introduce a new three-zone system of approvals, so that if a product is approved in one member state, it automatically becomes available in other countries in the same zone.

“But following pressure from MEPs, individual states will be allowed to ban a product because of specific environmental or agricultural circumstances,” said a statement.

Another initiative by MEPs, to include a 50% reduction target for the use of pesticides, has been thrown out. Instead, member states must commit to “reduce the risks of pesticide use”.

A spokesman for the NFU said the package agreed in Brussels went considerably further than the position agreed by agriculture ministers last June and would be opposed. “We will be encouraging our members to write to their MEPs immediately and ask them to reject the agreement.”

The package is due to be voted on by the full European parliament in mid-January. If they accept it – as seems likely – then it will just remain for the agriculture council to endorse it and the new terms for pesticide approvals will become law.