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European Union Seeks Tighter Pesticide Controls

Crop Protection: Regulators seek to restrict 20% of substances

by Alex Scott
February 9, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 6

Agricultural chemical companies in Europe are being buffeted by a series of initiatives to substitute—or reduce the use of—many pesticides applied in the region.

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Credit: Sauletas/Shutterstock.com
European regulators aim to tighten controls on potentially harmful pesticides.
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Credit: Sauletas/Shutterstock.com
European regulators aim to tighten controls on potentially harmful pesticides.

Experts representing the European Union’s member states want to investigate restricting the use of 77 pesticide active ingredients that are potentially harmful to human health and the environment. The move could affect about 20% of all pesticides licensed in Europe.

Matthew Phillips, cofounder of U.K. pesticide and biotechnology consultancy Phillips McDougall, cautions that ingredient replacement would take place only if safer alternatives exist. “Identifying safer alternatives is complex,” he says. “The likelihood is that there may be restrictions for certain applications of a product rather than outright bans.”

In a separate move, France’s agriculture minister, Stéphane Le Foll, has introduced a policy to cut pesticide use in France by 25% by 2020 and 50% by 2025. The policy, which aims to replace pesticides with agricultural methods that don’t involve use of chemicals, is being slammed by the European Crop Protection Association, an industry group. “It will be difficult to meet these targets, which are politically driven,” says Euros Jones, ECPA’s director of regulatory affairs.

Potentially the largest threat to Europe’s pesticide makers is a planned policy to control human exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs. The European Commission is currently evaluating what constitutes an EDC. Bayer, a major European agchem supplier, rejects an accusation made in the Guardian, a U.K. newspaper, that the company pressured European officials into suppressing a draft EDC system.

EU draft legislation on EDCs is not expected until 2016. “It is too early to say where we will end up with the final criteria, but this will potentially have a major impact on the market,” Jones says.

The confluence of regulations to control pesticides in Europe is a “worrying trend,” according to Bayer. “In an unpredictable regulatory climate, research-intensive companies will find it harder and harder to invest the resources necessary to develop new products,” the firm tells C&EN.

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Comments
Ben (February 9, 2015 12:59 PM)
Are these movements toward pesticide control also motivated, in part, by pollinator decline?
Anonymous (February 11, 2015 8:13 AM)
Many of the older pesticides - some that have been registered on the market for 30 years or more - are toxic and can be replaced with newer technology. The tug of war between the EU and the Crop Protection industry regarding pesticide regulation will always be a source of tension, particularly as Europe tends to be the global trend-setter for ever-increasing regulation. But this is also the driver of a necessarily delicate balance between the need for pesticides (we do have 7 billion people to feed, after all) and the ever-growing public concern about consumer safety. Passing legislation such as they are proposing in Europe now creates more incentive for the Crop Protection industry to deliver innovative and safe new products. However, if it bears down too heavily on the industry, it will make even the development of safe products prohibitive. Some of the older products are also a source of steady income for the R&D-heavy companies, and so a careful balance is definitely crucial to the health of the agricultural industry.

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