Ombudsman criticises Commission’s handling of pesticides

In early 2013, O’Reilly’s predecessor, Nikiforos Diamandouros, was contacted by Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe and Générations Futures regarding the Commission’s approach towards pesticides. In particular, its granting of authorisation even in lieu of all the necessary data relating to security, the environment and health being provided. This process, known as the confirmatory data procedure (CDP), seems to have become the norm. In a report published in April 2012, PAN Europe said that it was “standard procedure for DG SANCO (Directorate-General for Health and Consumers) and that people and the environment had been exposed to serious unknown, yet possible, risks”. However, the CDP is not mentioned in the old EU Directive on pesticides and only has to be carried out in exceptional circumstances under the new regulation. In both cases, Brussels does not appear to be taking “sufficient account of the precautionary principle”, according to Emily O’Reilly in a decision published on 18 February. In the case of the old directive, which was applicable until 14 June 2011, the Ombudsman noted that the omission of CDP is an “illegal practice” and “contrary to the principles of good administration”, due to the “possible consequences for human health, animal health and the environment, such inadequacies are particularly worrying”. The new regulation provides for CDP in exceptional circumstances. However, opinions issued by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) related to “critical areas of concern” have, on occasion, not prevented the Commission from authorising the product for sale on the market. The two associations also put forward a number of other complaints, including the lack of attention by the Commission to the mitigating measures put in place by member states in relation to pesticide use. According to O’Reilly, Brussels gives the member states too much free reign and should at least issue guidelines that reflect EFSA opinions. In some cases, pesticides have even been used in member states despite the Commission having withdrawn the products’ authorisation. In the Ombudsman’s view, the Commission should ensure that its decisions are quickly implemented in each country. O’Reilly noted that “The Commission has largely accepted the Ombudsman?s proposals for a solution”. However, she also added that since implementation of the measures will take some time, a report will only be issued after two years. The associations that had initially lodged the complaint welcomed the decision and expressed their hopes that the executive will now get its house in order. Hans Muilerman, of PAN Europe, said that “it is clear that DG SANCO and the member states have let the interests of industry and some farmers outweigh those of the public, by allowing harmful pesticides that contain data gaps and present high risks to be sold on the market”. According to François Veillerette, spokesperson for Générations Futures and the president of PAN Europe, “the European system for pesticide registration voluntarily sacrifices the environment and citizens’ health for profit. This situation must cease immediately and pesticides should only be granted approval once all the required scientific data has been taken into account.” The Ombudsman’s position comes at quite a difficult time for the Commission, as it prepares to ask the member states to start the authorisation renewal process of the herbicide glyphosate, commonly known as Roundup. The matter is the subject of considerable controversy between the EFSA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a World Health Organisation body, which has serious doubts about its carcinogenicity.

Euractiv, 24 February 2016 ; ;