Pesticide Makers Warn of EU Grain Cuts From Tougher Health Rules

  • EU due to propose criteria for hormone-damaging chemicals
  • Industry warns that cereal business could lose billions

European Union cereal production risks being cut by stricter EU rules on hormone-damaging chemicals, the pesticides industry warned.

An EU plan to outline more detailed criteria for determining whether pesticides contain so-called endocrine disruptors could force key farm chemicals off the market, according to the European Crop Protection Association, which represents producers such as BASF SE, Bayer AG and Dow Chemical Co. The initiative is due on Wednesday.

Among the potential victims is a class of chemicals called triazoles, which are widely used to fight a wheat disease known as Septoria that can reduce crop yields by as much as 50 percent, said Jean-Charles Bocquet, director general of the Brussels-based industry association. He said substitutes for triazoles don’t have the same effectiveness.

“The impact on the cereal business in Europe will be significant,” Bocquet, a French native and 40-year veteran of the agrochemicals industry, said in an interview in the EU capital. “We are talking about billions of euros in lost agricultural production and trade.”

Manufacturer Objections

Europe is expanding its better-safe-than-sorry principle of regulation over objections by manufacturers concerned that inadequate attention is being paid to the costs for industry and to the actual threats to consumers.

In Europe’s 11 billion-euro ($12.4 billion) crop-protection market, with new active ingredients each requiring about 250 million euros and 11 years to develop, numerous pesticides are faced with possible bans or restrictions, according to Bocquet. As much as 40 percent of the approximately 450 active substances in pesticides may end up being classified as endocrine disruptors, he said.

Endocrine disruptors in pesticides have been in the firing line in Europe since 2009, when the EU approved legislation that shifted the safety gauge. The rules went from being “risk-based,” which is an industry-friendly stance that considers the likelihood of human exposure to dangerous chemicals, to being “hazard-based,” a more catch-all approach based on the intrinsic ability of substances to cause harm.

In 2012, the United Nations Environment Program and World Health Organization sounded an alarm over endocrine disruptors, linking them to a global rise in diseases and disorders including cancers, low semen quality in young men, earlier breast development in young girls, obesity and diabetes. At the same time, the two organizations said improved methods are needed for assessing the risks of endocrine disruptors.

Detailed Measures

The 2009 European legislation set interim criteria for determining endocrine-disrupting properties in pesticides and required the European Commission, the 28-nation EU’s regulatory arm, to propose more detailed measures. That’s what’s due on Wednesday.

“Defining clear criteria on what constitutes an endocrine disruptor is a crucial step for properly regulating these chemicals and, ultimately, phasing them out,” said Bas Eickhout, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, which decided on the 2009 law along with EU governments. “The principle guiding these criteria must be to address the major public health problems caused by these chemicals.”

The commission has outlined four policy options, three of which would introduce the WHO definition to identify endocrine disruptors in pesticides and one of which would involve no legislative changes. Because all four options represent hazard-based approaches, the pesticides industry opposes them and is pushing for a proposal that would also address the question of exposure.

Curb Concerns

“We could end up banning products unnecessarily without something closer to a risk-based assessment,” said Bocquet.

The main European farm-lobby group, Copa-Cogeca, echoed the concerns about
possible further EU pesticide curbs. It said “robust scientific evidence”
must be the basis for regulating endocrine disruptors and “failure to retain an economically competitive EU agriculture industry will succeed in only placing European jobs and growth at risk.”

As a further example of potential market disruptions, Bocquet said a class of chemicals called pyrethroids that have been used since the late 1970s as an insecticide for cereals, rapeseed, soybeans, vegetables and vineyards also faces prohibition in the EU.

“Alternatives exist, but they are less effective or are also being challenged by regulators,” said Bocquet.

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