Friday, November 20, 2015

'We are not sleeping on the job!'

That was the assertion of Ladislav Miko, Deputy Director General for the Food Chain in DG Sanco, at a symposium at the European Parliament yesterday on feeding Europe with less pesticides. The event was organised by Greenpeace, the International Biocontrol Manufacturers Association, Pesticides Action Network Europe and other organisations.

He insisted that progress in the approval of low risk substances was dependent on progress in the member states. It was also constrained by the legislation and the capacity available to DG Sanco. This capacity was not increasing.

Miko was optimistic in the sense that he felt some difference in practices was observable in the field. However, a report on the implementation of the Sustainable Use Directive that was due in November 2014 will be submitted to the institutions in the first half of 2016. National Action Plans had been delayed.

I am afraid that this reflects the typical glacial pace in the European institutions, the inadequacy of implementation and enforcement and the usual resort to wheeling out shortcomings by the member states, or more specifically the subsidiarity principle, as an excuse.

One might hope for more progress under the Dutch presidency from January. They intend to propose a 'road map' to the Council which would include the acceleration of approval and authorisation procedures and the finalising of low risk substances criteria.

The Netherlands has been operating its own Green Deal since 2014. However, when I heard the lessons learned listed, they were mostly identical with those that we derived from our RELU biopesticides project which was completed seven years ago. So much for impact. If the Dutch weren't interested in a British project, they could have learnt lessons from their own Genoeg project.

Other dispiriting news was that the 'grey area' of plant strengtheners is to be dealt with in a review of fertilisers, which is inappropriate as these products are often marketed on the basis that they enhance plant protection. Their effect on human health is unknown.

It also became apparent that the European Chemicals Agency and the European Food Safety Agency are treading on each other's toes despite pious expressions about better coordination. Sometimes I think that the EU has too many agencies with too many overlapping jurisdictions, but I don't think this is on David Cameron's reform agenda.

Czech MEP Pavel Poc said that member states needed to respect the commitments made. More needed to be done to tackle the illegal trade in pesticides. As far as low risk substances were concerned, every data gap should not be used as an excuse for non-approval.

IBMA executive director David Cary said that we had not yet built the toolbox we needed. There were far too many approvals for emergency use of synthetics under Article 53. Five low risk substances had now been approved, two of which would be available from January.

Summing up, chair Michael Hamell, a former DG Environment official, said 'A new direction for plant protection is here and it's better to step on the train now. We know where we want to go. Are we sure that everything in our regulatory system is in place?'

My answer is a resounding 'No'. The directives and regulations do the job, the problem is the lack of implementation.

My own presentation on 'The Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture' can be found here: Benefits

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