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EU ministers clinch deal on new pesticides law

European Union agriculture ministers struck a compromise deal on Monday to revise pesticide authorization laws, that should cut the number of crop chemicals that can be sold in EU markets, officials and diplomats said.

The proposed changes, which will now be debated by the European Parliament in the autumn, would replace a law dating from 1991 and let groups of countries with similar geography and climate to decide whether farmers may use specific products.

Britain, Hungary, Ireland and Romania abstained in Monday’s vote, saying the final text was too restrictive and focused too much on danger analysis of pesticides rather than risk analysis. But the EU’s remaining 23 countries voted in favor, after changes were agreed by EU ambassadors last week for countries to apply exceptions, under certain strict conditions, for particular substances to gain bloc-wide authorization. One of the final issues to be resolved was how to establish “cut-off criteria” for approving substances that had possible hazardous properties, diplomats said. “The new arrangements totally prohibit the marketing and use of substances proven to be carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic for reproduction,” current EU president Slovenia said.

However, substances considered hazardous could be used if available products did “not offer sufficiently effective plant protection”, it said in a statement. But this would be an exception to the general rule subject to strict conditions, with a transitional period of not more than five years, it said. Also, “it will no longer be possible to grant provisional authorization to products still in the process of registration unless the EU-level assessment lasts longer than two and a half years”, the Slovenian statement said.

EU countries would be divided into three zones -- north, centre and south -- so that pesticides could be approved for a region rather than a country, since at present, approvals apply only for individual countries.

Rules would be tightened for more toxic pesticides, while those seen as less hazardous to human and animal health would become easier to approve, indefinitely. Britain has complained that the revised law will lead to the withdrawal of certain fungicides and cause sharp reductions in wheat yields. But environment groups argue that yields can be increased via better use of organic and non-chemical farming.


In 2006, the European Commission -- the EU’s executive arm -- started a pesticide revision, while the European Parliament then pushed for further restrictions which could lead to a loss of between 70% and 85% of remaining substances. The final legal text agreed on Monday is primarily a hazard-based, not risk-based, approach. That has annoyed Europe’s pesticides industry, which says the new law will remove products from the market that have been used safely for years. “Just because a product has hazardous properties does not mean it is dangerous,” said Friedhelm Schmider, director general of the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), an umbrella organization that represents Europe’s major pesticide companies. “We believe the proposal will lead to the loss of important crop protection solutions. This will make it more difficult to control pests and diseases and will negatively impact overall agricultural productivity,” he said in a statement. (Reuters)