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European Parliament votes at first reading on pesticides package

Environment - 25-10-2007 - 09:04
Plenary sessions
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New EU legislation on pesticides was approved with amendments by the European Parliament at first reading on Tuesday 23 October. MEPs voted to ban aerial spraying with pesticides and to prohibit the use of pesticides in buffer zones round water courses. They also approved plans to ban or at least restrict pesticides in parks and sports grounds. However, they threw out proposals to divide the EU into three zones for the purposes of approving new pesticide products.

In a report on a draft directive on the sustainable use of pesticides (drafted by Christa Klass (EPP-ED, DE) under co-decision first reading), Parliament backed a ban on aerial spraying (under which derogations would be allowed).   MEPs rejected an amendment calling for farmers to be required to inform neighbours in advance if they plan to spray with pesticides. 
 
While agreeing that there should be buffer zones around water courses such as rivers and lakes, they rejected the idea that such zones should be 10 metres wide or indeed any specific width, preferring to leave this decision to Member States.
 
Parliament agreed that pesticide use should be banned or restricted to a minimum in public areas such as parks and public gardens, and added further areas such as public healthcare facilities and substantial no-spray zones around these areas.
 
Member States will be required to set up National Action Plans for reducing pesticide use, but the Commission proposed leaving the details to each state.  Parliament today rejected the precise EU-wide figures for pesticide reduction proposed by its Environment Committee, opting instead for reduction targets in some cases only, e.g. for substances of "very high concern".
 
Lastly, MEPs threw out the idea that Member States must fund their National Action Plans through taxes or levies or that a Community level tax should be introduced to discourage pesticide use.
 
Approval of new pesticides
 
Parliament also voted on a report on a draft regulation on the authorisation of new plant protection products (drafted by Hiltrud Breyer (Greens/EFA, DE) also under co-decision first reading.
 
Under the regulation, a positive list of active substances (the key ingredients of pesticides) will be drawn up at EU level. New plant protection products (i.e. pesticides) will then be authorised at national level on the basis of this list. 
 
The Commission proposed that most new substances should be approved initially for 10 years, though low-risk ones would be approved for 15 years. Those which could be replaced by less toxic substances would be approved for only 7 years. In the latter case, the Parliament voted to cut the period to 5 years to encourage the use of non-chemical alternatives.  The Commission proposed that all subsequent renewals should be for unlimited periods but Parliament took a more cautious line, voting today for approvals to be renewed "once or repeatedly for a period not exceeding 10 years".
 
MEPs voted against the Commission's idea of dividing the EU into three geographical zones for pesticide approvals, opting instead for a single EU-wide mutual recognition system, within which Member States would have a degree of flexibility.
 
Parliament backed the Commission's proposed ban on substances that are genotoxic, carcinogenic, reprotoxic or endocrine-disrupting, and it added substances with neurotoxic or immunotoxic effects to the banned category.
 
The proposed rules state that substances must not have harmful effects on human health, including vulnerable groups. Parliament added "residents, bystanders" to these categories.
 
In addition, it decided to tighten up the proposed rules on animal testing, saying this should only be used "as a last resort", and stressed that the combined effect of substances ("chemical cocktails") must also be evaluated.
 
Lastly, MEPs decided to accept the Commission's proposal that authorisations of products may include, in the "conditions of use", an obligation to warn any neighbours who could be exposed to spray drift before the product is used and who have requested to be informed. But they rejected a series of amendments which would have imposed tougher requirements, such as an obligation to warn residents at least 48 hours in advance.
 
Ambitious strategy on pesticides needed, says Parliament
 
On Wednesday 24 October, Parliament voted on an own-initiative report by Irena Belohorská (NA, SK) on a proposed Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides, a set of policy guidelines which underpins the pesticides legislation on which Parliament had voted on Tuesday.  
 
In adopting this report, MEPs first acknowledged the need for a European legal framework on pesticide use, as existing legislation is not sufficient to prevent risks to health and the environment from pesticides.  At the same time, they point out that the problem of pests is likely to increase due to global warming, which is expected to lead to increased pest populations.
 
The aim of a pesticides strategy, MEPs believe, should definitely be to reduce the use of pesticides. A key point of the report is a call for "quantitative use reduction targets" to prompt governments to lower the amount of pesticides used.  Low pesticide-input farming needs to be promoted, giving priority to non-chemical methods and meaningful support to organic farming.  Parliament also urges the Commission to ensure that biocides are included in the strategy.  
 
Cooperation with the EU's neighbours on the use of pesticides is needed, says Parliament, and it urges a ban on imports into the European Union of food produced with pesticides whose use is not allowed in the EU.
 
MEPs welcome plans to create a system of training and education for professional pesticide users. In addition, they call on the Commission to involve pesticide manufacturers in efforts to reduce pesticides and insist on the need for public information campaigns about pesticide issues.
 
Lastly, the report calls for existing Community funding to be used for the safe disposal of obsolete pesticides, given that within the EU more than 200,000 tonnes of pesticides are still being stored in both underground dumps and open-air stockpiles.
 
REF.: 20071019IPR11929