EFSA defines weeds as “serious danger to plant health” that must be countered by increasing applications of more types of herbicides. Claire Robinson reports
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) chose the summer holiday ‘dead zone’ period to publish a protocol for the implementation of a major derogation (exemption) from Europe’s pesticide law.
The derogation will allow dangerous pesticides that cause cancer, birth defects, and endocrine disruption to continue to be used in spite of the fact that they are about to be banned under the EU pesticides regulation 1107/2009.
The derogation will be used for pesticides that are still on the EU market but fall into the 2009 pesticide regulation’s "cut-off" provisions for pesticides that are classified as carcinogens, reproductive toxins, or endocrine disruptors.
Examples are glufosinate (a pesticide used on glufosinate-tolerant GM crops that causes birth defects), epoxiconazole (which causes birth defects and liver cancer), flumioxazin (a reproductive and endocrine toxin), pymetrozin (which causes cancers, reduction in fertility and effects on endocrine organs).
The derogation will allow such pesticides to be used on specific crops in case of a "serious danger for plant health".
In EFSA's view, herbicides can qualify for this derogation even though the agency admits in its published opinion that "weeds in a strict sense do not directly pose a threat to plant health".
This appears to be at the very least illogical and at worst possibly in contempt of the European legislation.
EFSA promotes chemical treadmill for control of herbicide-resistant weeds
EFSA states in its opinion that due to the growing resistance of weeds against herbicides, for every crop in the EU, a range of herbicides needs to be available with different mechanisms of action – in some cases as many as four different classes of herbicides.
This means that if three classes of herbicides are available for a given crop, the derogation can still be applied to the classified-dangerous herbicide as the fourth herbicide.
EFSA mentions that priority has to be given to non-chemical methods. But under the agency’s protocol, such methods can be easily dismissed as being less reliable and effective.
EFSA recommendations “a scandal”
Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe calls EFSA’s recommendations for controlling resistant weeds “a scandal”. PAN says, “Weeds will in the worst case cause a reduction of the yield of a crop and not be a serious danger to plant health." The group adds that including herbicides in the new derogation is “a grave misuse of the rules”.
PAN says that instead of recommending reducing the use of pesticides by sustainable practices like crop rotation and mechanical weeding, “EFSA promotes the all-out use of synthetic pesticides to fight weeds. Resistance caused by overuse of pesticides needs to be countered by use of more pesticides, according to the Authority. This is the chemical treadmill – a dead-end street.”
PAN adds that EFSA completely ignores the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive, which states that pesticides can only be used as a last resort: “The ‘plant health’ panel at EFSA seems to have no knowledge of sustainable crop growing and dismisses available and widely used non-chemical methods.”
Hans Muilerman of PAN Europe said: “The EU member states should not accept this EFSA protocol since it is undermining sustainable agriculture and decades of environmental and health policy.”
1. The derogation grants an exemption from Article 4.7 of the pesticides regulation 1107/2009.
2. Regulation 1107/2009, article 4.1.
3. Directive 128/2009
Source: Pesticide Action Network Europe