EU debate over pesticides continues

The debate over the use of pesticides in Europe has been a longstanding one. The EU agreed on an effective ban nine years ago. However, despite many attempts to confirm which substances should be covered by restrictions, repeated attempts to relax the rules by some member states has meant that a decision hasn’t been reached.

The EU has now reached a decision and says that public authorities will be allowed to enforce the new rules in the upcoming months. But, yet again, this has been disputed by several countries including the UK, the Netherlands, and a handful of Eastern European states.

The potential link between pesticides and health problems has been known for some time. Environmentalists have expressed their concerns that their use can increase the risk of some illnesses, including some types of cancer, developmental issues, and nervous system disorders. There’s mounting evidence to support these claims; although this evidence has been brushed off many times, in particular, by pesticide companies.

For example, most of these companies argue that there is a range of substances, both harmful and not harmful, that are classed as endocrine disruptors. They say that the current criteria are too strict and that not all of the substances used are dangerous as has been suggested in reports.

Graeme Taylor, from pesticide industry representatives the European Crop Protection Association, noted: “Many ordinary everyday substances interact with the endocrine system in a temporary way without causing harm like paracetamol, vitamin C, soy or coffee; but that does not make them endocrine disruptors,” he said. “The same goes for pesticides.”

However, environmental lawyers ClientEarth say that the attempts to relax the rules could be illegal. They have heavily criticised the upcoming discussions.  Lawyer Apolline Roger warned that: “The proposal assumes a safe level of exposure, but even very low doses of endocrine-disrupting chemicals may affect humans and wildlife.”

She added: “For endocrine disrupting chemicals we need laws which strongly favour prevention. The commission’s changes are in clear violation of its duty to protect humans, animals and the environment and an illegal overstep in powers reserved to the democratically elected parliament and council.”

A spokesperson from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said, in response to the concerns raised: “We have a strong record on taking action to prevent dangerous pesticides from being used, including banning certain neonicotinoids that can impact our bees and pollinators. It remains our position that decisions on the use of pesticides should be based on a careful scientific assessment of the risks, with the aim of achieving a high level of protection for people and the environment.”

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