0 Where are we now – a European update.

symbioSpraying2.jpgDiscussions and votes on the final wording and implications for amending the directive 91/414 ("the pesticide rules") and The Thematic Strategy For The Sustainable Use Of Pesticides in the EU are nearing a conclusion. The final votes on the restrictions that will be imposed and the areas that pesticides can be used are planned to be held within the next two months.

European politicians are keen to push through the vote and the changes that will result as part of the Thematic Strategy whilst the French still hold the EU presidency. The French are keen to see this legislation through on their watch as a token of their commitment to being "green" and being seen to have driven through a critical area of policy.

The two aspects of the changes being proposed by the EU Parliament are to change the system of approval for pesticide products from the current directive 91/414, that instigated the review of all pesticide products approved in the EU and led to the drop in products approved from approximately 700 to around 350 which we have now.

The current system of approval is based on a risk assessment approach, designed to remove and mitigate the risks that products and their use can pose. It is proposed that this risk based system is changed to a hazard based system that arbitrarily classifies products on their properties, without mitigation for how or where they are used. In addition to these proposals no spray zones in public places and around areas such as schools and hospitals and homes for the infirm are being discussed. The possible impact of both these measures is massive. The impact on horticultural trade and the ability to manage our urban environments and green leisure areas to the standard that we expect may be vastly reduced.

Lobbying against severe restrictions in both areas of use and products has been strong from the horticultural, agricultural, and the amenity sector. Dutch authorities and the UK's Pesticide Safety Directorate (PSD) who regulate pesticide products and their use are to present an impact assessment to the EU Council to draw their attention to the massive potential impact the restrictions on products could have on horticultural trade.

An impact assessment conducted by PSD revealed that up to 85% of pesticide products could be lost as a result of this proposed legislation. This would impact on production of ornamentals, weed and pest control in parks, gardens, and sports grounds. The Dutch equivalent of the Horticultural Trade Association has indicated through its research that the number of saleable bulbs would fall by 80%.

Dutch bulb exports are worth approximately £528m per year. Removing the tools to create export quality bulbs and impacting on this source of foreign exchange has caused concern amongst Dutch growers. The largest impact will be felt in horticulture and amenity as these two sectors have the smallest resource of products to draw from for control of weed and pest problems.

So the implications of the proposed legislation have been known for some time, and the potential commercial impact on horticultural plant production is causing grave concerns. The amenity sector has been lobbying hard to prevent the loss of valuable tools to help keep our managed environments in good condition.

So where are the proceedings now?

There are two threads to the discussions. This is a little dry - but then the process of EU change has never been riveting stuff! Firstly, there are to be the revisions to the EU directive 91/414 to change product approval regulations. Secondly, the adoption of the Sustainable Use Directive and its scope.

91 / 414 revisions.

The proposed legislation is at the second reading stage, with a final vote planned soon. The main issue is the switch from the risk based assessment of products to a hazard based system, that excludes far more products from possible use, based on a lab bench assessment of what harm they might cause, rather than a risk assessment based on the likelihood of that harm happening. We have used the risk based system in the UK since the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 and Control of Pesticide Regulations 1986 were enacted. It is a system that has served us well, protecting both the environment and authorising the use of safe effective products that enable cost effective management of weeds pests and diseases.

The EU Council and Parliament are in discussion and taking account of each others views and opinions. Apparently the EU environment committee has given some ground, and this has lead to the EU Parliament moving closer to the EU council view. The three way dialogue between the EU parliament, Council and Commission is moving gently towards a slightly less extreme view. If the discussions do not yield a conclusion before January 2009, the process will go to conciliation. This is an interesting process as German MEP, Hiltrude Breyer, who has been leading the campaign and pushing a very dark green agenda from her position on the EU Environment committee will be precluded from the discussion if conciliation is taken up.

The Sustainable Use Directive.

Suggested areas of expansion are the formal training of operatives across the EU, and the compulsory testing of spraying equipment. Other elements that may be included are the defining of no spray zones, the establishment of pesticide use reduction targets and the introduction of taxes on pesticides. It is worth noting that if an approved product is used as directed by the label at the rates indicated and using calibrated equipment then there is no risk to bystanders or the public. So given this no risk situation that is scientifically supported, what additional safety is the public being given by this proposed irrational imposition of buffer zones?

The debate goes on, have your say. Lobby your MEP and let them know your view. www.europarl.org.uk/

With Thanks to Paul Singleton and Mark De Ath.

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