Next week the European parliament’s environment committee will vote on controversial new rules restricting the approvals of pesticides. Hiltrud Breyer, the German Green MEP overseeing the legislation, explains why she thinks the industry’s concerns about this are misplaced
“The new EU pesticides rules, which are currently being debated in the European parliament, will create a win-win situation for all: for consumers’ health, for the protection of the environment, but also for Europe’s farming industry.
As the rapporteur for the European parliament’s environment committee, I therefore condemn the way in which industry uses unscientific and false figures to create panic about the new law, instead of taking part in a rational debate. This strategy seems to have fallen on fertile ground – at least with some agricultural representatives, which take these unrealistic estimates without question.
I know that British farmers are especially concerned about the study of the Pesticides Safety Directorate, on whose estimates the Save our Sprays campaign is based. But the EU Commission itself has made it clear that the PSD study is an unrealistic overestimate of the impact of the foreseen pesticide provisions.
Why? Because the study takes an arbitrary number of substances as a basis, which has nothing to do with the actual number of available substances.
PSD also lists as ‘endocrine disruptors’ many substances for which the final classification is not definite yet.
They have not taken into consideration that the EU Council introduced a derogation, which allows the continued use of substances which are carcinogenic and mutagenic, when there is a serious danger to plant health.
Last, but not least, for most substances the new provisions will not take effect before 2016, so another eight years from now.
The fear that European farmers will have no more means to control pests and weeds is completely unfounded. The foreseen cut-off criteria for cancerogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic substances, as well as endocrine disruptors, will only affect a handful of substances – less than 2% for CMR, less than 4% for endocrine disruptors – in no way 15% as estimated by PSD.
The same holds true for immunotoxic and neurotoxic pesticides, which the European parliament also wants to see taken off the market. Less than 1% of all substances will be affected, according to independent assessments.
For substances which are Persistent Organic Pollutants, I have brought the cut-off criteria in line with internationally agreed definitions, so this cut-off will not affect up to 70% of products as claimed, but less than 1%.
Some problematic substances will be put on a list of ‘candidates for substitution’, which mean they will have to be replaced when better and safer products are available. But there is no automatic process, and they cannot be put into the same calculation as substances which fall under cut-off criteria, which is exactly what the PSD study does.
It is in fact European farmers who will benefit first and foremost from the new EU regulation, as they and their families bear the disproportionate costs of long-term exposure to hazardous pesticides. I wish that these and other advantages would be stressed more in the current discussion on pesticides. After all, isn’t our common interest to make pesticides as safe as possible for all?”