PEST Committee report demanding reform of pesticide approvals process voted through by large majority
The European Parliament has voted to adopt the final report of the Special Committee on Pesticide Authorisation (PEST), which calls on EU governments and the European Commission to make the authorisation procedure for pesticides more transparent, to take decisions based on independent scientific evidence, to test pesticides and pesticide active substances more rigorously for health and environmental risks, and to re-assess the product glyphosate for its cancer risks.
A very large majority of the MEPs followed rapporteurs Bart Staes (Greens/EFA) and Norbert Lins (EPP) in calling for a fundamental reform of the authorisation procedure. The PEST Committee was set up following the revelations of the Monsanto papers.
Yesterday, the Greens/EFA Group published a study demonstrating that the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) in its assessments of the health effects of glyphosate partly plagiarised assessments directly from Monsanto (now Bayer), the glyphosate producer that led the Glyphosate Task Force. The BfR adopted the chemical giant's own assessments of the potential damage to humans and the environment from glyphosate, without clearly indicating the true source in their final report. In doing so, the BfR dismissed all independent scientific studies indicating potential carcinogenic effects.
Bart Staes, rapporteur on the Special Committee on Pesticide Authorisation report, commented:
"The European Parliament has listened to EU citizens, who expressed calls through the European Citizen Initiative (ECI). In conducting its work, the PEST committee has not bowed to the pressure of the pesticides lobby and is demanding strong action to protect health and the environment. The overwhelming support for reform of the pesticide authorisation procedure is a wakeup call for EU governments and the Commission and also a success for the ECI and public protests throughout the glyphosate debate.
"The Special Committee has brought to light serious shortcomings in the authorisation of pesticides. We must now put an end to the secrecy, the conflicts of interest and the fact that governments are depending too heavily on chemical giants such as Monsanto. The copy and paste in the approval case of glyphosate must be a lesson for more transparency and independent assessment in the authorisation of dangerous substances.
"The Committee could not resolve the controversy around the carcinogenicity of glyphosate and for that reason has asked for a systematic review of all relevant science. The next round of decisions on whether to ban glyphosate from our fields will be in 2022. Any future decision on glyphosate must fully consider independent scientific studies and ensure objective and transparent decision-making around the cancer risks and threats to biodiversity that glyphosate poses.
"The Greens/EFA eagerly await the ruling of the European Court of Justice on the transparency obligations of the European Food Safety Authority".
Angeliki Lysimachou, Science Policy Officer of PAN Europe, commented, “This is a step forward. PAN Europe has been advocating for years that the EU law is not respected in the pesticide authorisation system: science is misused, conflicts of interests persist and industry is dominating the whole process by carrying out its own assessment studies and even designing the methods used in the assessment procedure. We have no idea about how many pesticides we’re exposed to and how these mixtures impact the environment, ourselves and the health of our children. Today the Parliament decided to listen to the European citizens’ concerns and demand an improvement in the whole authorisation system."
Among the recommendations, the PEST report calls for a strong conflict of interest policy in the whole pesticide risk assessment process and to for an EFSA committee to be set up to investigate the independence and expertise of all European experts involved in the procedure. The report also calls for post-market vigilant system of pesticide exposure, taking into account real-life exposures as well as a full implementation of the sustainable use of pesticides directive giving priority to sustainable and ecological alternatives. Finally, the report calls for a ban on the use of pesticides in areas used by the general public or vulnerable groups (schools, hospitals), as well as on crop desiccation that speeds up cereals’ maturation.
Health Commissioner Andriukaitis welcomed the report and confirmed that the recommendations should be taken into account in the current REFIT process of the Pesticide Regulation.
The Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament has taken the European Food Safety Authority to the European Court of Justice for breach of its transparency obligations. The question is to what extent the Authority should make public the industry studies relating to the risk assessment of glyphosate. The ruling is expected on March 7.
The demands include:
- Stricter criteria for testing pesticide active substances and pesticide products for damage to the environment and health
- Strict testing not only of the active substances, but also of the pesticide products themselves and of mixtures and residues
- No more plagiarism
- Stronger application of the precautionary principle, clear risk mitigation measures
- Complete transparency of all studies
- Assessment free of conflicts of interest
- Better funding for EFSA to carry out independent research on pesticides
- Protect the general public and vulnerable groups by banning the use of pesticides in areas such as public parks and gardens, sports and recreation grounds, school grounds and children’s playgrounds and in the close vicinity of healthcare facilities
- Protect the environment by banning the use of pesticides for pre-harvest drying (“desiccation”)
- More support for independent research into residues in surface waters, soil and dust and support for a full assessment of cumulative effects of plant protection products.
Sources: Greens/EFA in the EU Parliament; PAN EU
Updated 21 January 2019 to include Angeliki Lysimachou's quote.