Significant improvements have been made to the position adopted by the European parliament’s environment committee regarding EU pesticides approvals legislation following their crucial vote on the issue today (5 November).

Key vote summary

  • Reduction in products affected
  • Reapprovals for candidates for substitution
  • Addition of new cut-off criteria
  • Emergency use derogation conditions tightened
  • Pesticide passport introduced 

The softening of the committee’s previous hard-line attitude comes after concerted lobbying by organisations within the food chain, and from Farmers Weekly‘s Save our Sprays campaign.

Initial estimates by Euros Jones of the European Crop Protection Association suggested 15-20% of existing products were likely to be affected by the environment committee’s new position rather than the 85% assessed by the Pesticides Safety Directorate after the first reading.

One key concession included adopting the EU Commission/Farm Council’s common position that all three criteria for defining whether an active substance is a “persistent organic pollutant” must be met before a pesticide is banned. The European parliament had previously said one criterion would be enough.

Another concession means that, where a product is listed as a “candidate for substitution”, it can be reapproved if there is no safer alternative available.

These two concessions should dramatically reduce the numbers of products at risk from withdrawal.

A further compromise has been won requiring actual risk under realistic conditions of use to be assessed when deciding whether a product is toxic to bees. Hiltrud Breyer, the committee’s rapporteur for the legislation, had proposed using just a straight cut-off criterion to judge bee safety.

But a number of serious concerns about the proposals remain.

Two new cut-off criteria – whether active substances may cause immunotoxic and neurotoxic effects – have been introduced. A PSD assessment suggests this will have little impact, although Mr Jones was less sure. “These haven’t been defined yet, so we don’t know what the trigger cut-offs will be, what will be unacceptable,” he said. “Potentially, it could have a significant impact.”

An emergency derogation that would allow products that fail cut-off criteria to be used where there is a serious danger to plant health, and no other control measures are possible, has been tightened. Opposing amendments put forward by some MEPs that would have made it easier to get a derogation were not passed.

Other amendments calling for an impact assessment to be made before the legislation was passed also appear to have been rejected.

Overall, the position was more positive, said Mr Jones. “We’re not looking at the 85% any more, but there are still many essential products that could be lost.”

The next step is for the Council to consider its position in light of the vote and then embark on a series of “trialogues” between the presidency (for the Council), the parliament, and the Commission. The full European parliament plenary vote is scheduled for December or January.

Pesticides passport

The environment committee has also proposed that farmers should produce a pesticide passport, detailing all pesticide use on a crop, for retailers and wholesalers in the form of an electronic passport.

Neighbours, water companies and retailers would also be able to access spray records from farmers, who would have to keep records for 10 years.