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ECPA ANNUAL CONFERENCE IN BUDAPEST
(article reproduced from the October 2004 edition of Crop Protection Monthly)
With the recent accession of ten new member states to the European Union, Budapest was an appropriate venue for the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) to hold its annual conference on 20 October and welcome its new community partners. As it happens, the decision to create ECPA itself was taken at a past meeting of GIFAP, the predecessor of CropLife International, held in Budapest. The focus of ECPA’s annual conference was on the revisions to the European Directive 91/414/EEC and the proposed regulation on maximum residue levels (MRLs) of pesticides, as Brian Hicks reports.
Barry Thomas (chairman, BCPC, UK) started the conference with some reflections on how perceptions of crop protection have changed over the years as new words enter our vocabularies. He said that the word pesticide had first been coined in 1934, DNA in 1944 and “green” in the context of the environment in 1971.
Piet Smits, ECPA’s president and chairman of its executive committee, gave delegates some insights into his dreams of the future, inspired by Martin Luther King, for European farming and crop protection. He is concerned that industry is “overburdened by regulation” but is optimistic. After 35 years in the crop protection business, most recently as a top manager at Syngenta, Mr Smits is stepping down from his role at ECPA and handing over his responsibilities to Roger Doig of DuPont. ECPA is also losing its regulatory affairs manager, Bruce Julin, who worked for over 35 years for DuPont before joining the association two years ago. ECPA’s director general, Friedhelm Schmider, paid tribute to Dr Julin for his valuable assistance, expressing the hope that he might still be available to ECPA if the need arose.
Plant protection in Hungary
Joszef Simon, Deputy Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development of the Republic of Hungary, gave the welcome address to conference delegates. He gave an overview of the development of plant protection services in Hungary and said that its record on environmental protection had been good. The country was the first in the world to ban the use of DDT for plant protection uses and was amongst the first to ban mercury and arsenic.
The Hungarians celebrated the 50th anniversary of establishing a nationwide network of county plant protection stations with a “jubilee conference” in Budapest on 5 October. Mr Simon referred to a presentation at that event by Dr István Eke, head of the department for plant protection and soil conservation at Hungary’s Ministry of Agriculture. The first records relating to crop protection administrative measures in Hungary date back to the destruction of caterpillar nests in 1760. Another significant record from 1848 concerns the destruction of locust egg laying sites.
An informative film on Hungary’s plant protection services and facilities was shown to delegates. These employ about 1,000 staff, with 19 county services, 10 border control points and many specialised laboratories, including one for biological control. Hungary has benefited from support through the European Union’s PHARE programme to improve its plant protection administration (http://europa.eu.int/comm/enlargement/pas/phare). The Hungarian parliament passed a new Plant Protection Act in 2000, followed by seven ministerial decrees, which have been amended in line with changing EU pesticide legislation.
Patricia Brunkhorn (Directorate General Health and Consumer Protection, European Commission, Brussels) gave an overview of the new structure for the administration of food safety within the European Commission (http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/index_en.htm). She said that Markos Kyprianou was due to replace David Byrne as the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, assuming that the European Parliament votes to approve the new team of commissioners under the president designate, José Manuel Barroso. David Byrne has taken on a new role this month as a special envoy for the World Health Organization.
Food safety, production and distribution are dealt with by Directorate D. The adoption of the EU “food law” 178/2002 has provided a framework for its work. The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health has now replaced the pesticide committee and specialist groups. The responsibility for risk assessment resides with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), for risk management with the Commission, and for risk communication with both bodies. According to Ms Brunkhorn, the system proved effective in a recent case of confectionery that caused choking in children.
On 6 August 2004, the European Commission adopted a decision to create the Advisory Group on the Food Chain and Animal and Plant Health, 2004/613/EC, as part of a wide consultation procedure (http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/committees/advisory/index_en.htm).
Ms Brunkhorn recommended that ECPA and other associations apply for membership, which is open to all stakeholders, associations and consumer groups.
The adoption of the regulation 852/2004 has covered general food hygiene and hazards, as well as “tidying up animal health regulations”. Annex 1 is of relevance as it relates to keeping records of products used and pests or diseases treated and presents new demands for farmers. Ms Brunkhorn said that official food and feed controls are covered by the “third pillar” of regulation, 882/2004. It raises the question of the need for community reference laboratories dedicated to pesticides. The European Community veterinary service already has four such laboratories. The Commission is due to launch a call for interest at end of year and will fund some of the laboratory activities.
Ms Brunkhorn said that the Commission faced a number of challenges, not least the transition between outgoing and incoming commissioners and extending the EC rapid alert system to regions outside Europe.
Louis Smeets (co-ordinator for legislation on plant protection products, DG Health and Consumer Protection, Brussels) updated the conference on progress with the revision of the pesticide directive and the role of EFSA. Of the first list of 90 pesticides for review, 39 have been included in Annex I and 27 rejected. The Commission has prepared decisions for 13 of the remaining 24. Of the 148 substances on the second list 96 have been withdrawn and decisions remain to be taken on 51. Dr Canice Nolan, the official previously responsible for this area of work (May CPM), has recently been transferred to a new post for the Commission in Washington.
Mike Carroll, a registration specialist at Monsanto, spoke on behalf of ECPA about the revision of 91/414. He expressed concern about the slow progress and the costs of meeting new data requirements. He said that a central body for “zonal work sharing” was necessary but that national systems must be maintained. Of the pesticides under review, nine had annual sales over EUR 100 million and “paid for themselves” and 89 had sales of EUR 20 -100 million. However, the industry had 166 “problem children” with annual sales of less than EUR 20 million and it was hard to justify defending these if there was inadequate data protection.
He criticised some unclear wording in directives which would inevitably lead to confusion and more court cases when you consider that there are some 20 community languages. For Annex I inclusion directives, he argued that “wording must be unambiguous”. Mr Carroll commented that 91/414 was a sophisticated piece of legislation, perhaps too sophisticated.
Perspective from a Luxembourg regulator
Dubbed as Luxembourg’s “Mr Pesticide”, Antoine Ashman shared some of his perspectives on crop protection legislation and “35 years of mutual recognition” by this small EU member state. Luxembourg has some 440,000 inhabitants and 120,000 hectares of agricultural land, of which 60% is grassland. It needs 400-500 crop protection products to maintain an efficient agriculture with only Mr Ashman and another member of staff responsible for the pesticide administration. There are no experts for evaluation, although Luxembourg has observer status at the Board of Experts of Germany’s BBA. It followed Germany’s lead in placing restrictions on the use of atrazine but did not ban the herbicide when Germany did.
Since 1970, Luxembourg has operated a system of voluntary mutual recognition, registering products which are already approved in Belgium, Germany, France and the Netherlands. More recently, it has also started accepting products registered in the UK and Denmark. There approvals expire at the same time as the relevant approval in the Member State. Most of the approvals are based on Belgian registrations.
Pavel Minár, a government official from the Czech Republic, recounted how his country had adapted to the requirements of the pesticide directive and made major changes to its administrative systems in 1997. His department had to struggle a lot with Czech government lawyers to ensure that the wording of Czech legislation to implement 91/414 was appropriate. He said that there had been a lot of trust building between the old and new member states during this process and his department had established close links with the UK authorities. One of his big problems has been dealing with minor uses.
Joop Dornseiffen (senior policy officer at the Dutch Ministry of Health) discussed the evolution and future of the new MRL regulation. He has been actively involved in this, especially during the period of the Dutch presidency of the EU. Trade problems led to the first directive being implemented, 76/895, later extended for cereals, animal products and other plant products with 86/362, 86/363 and 90/642 (CPM, February 2003). In 1997 there was an update for baby food, now synchronised with 91/414. The four framework directives from the Council will now be replaced by one regulation to be approved by Council and Parliament. Mr Dornseiffen said there were problems still to be addressed relating to national MRLs and setting MRLs on monitoring data for spices and other produce.
There are concerns about the sustainability of minor uses as well as cumulative and synergistic effects of residues. Differences in opinion exist over the proposed roles of EFSA and the Commission. An inventory of national MRLs is currently underway and should be completed by the end of February 2005. Member states will have to defend high MRLs. The most important MRLs will enter into force six months after adoption of the directive.
The new MRL regulation will include: Annex 1, a list of plant and animal products; Annex II, a list of harmonised MRLs; Annex III, a list of harmonised temporary MRLs; and Annex IV, a list of active substances for which no MRLs will be needed.
Jennifer Webber, a researcher for the European Member of Parliament, Robert Sturdy, gave some interesting insights into work on the proposed MRL regulation and its progress. She has had a hectic time since learning in July 2003 that her boss, a UK MEP since 1994, had been chosen as the rapporteur for the directive. She said that the European Parliament’s Environment Committee was “very politicised” and that it was difficult to find consensus among its members. Mr Sturdy is a British Conservative, aligned with the EPP group of 268 MEPs. This is the biggest grouping, ahead of the socialists (200), liberals (88), far left (63) and greens (42). The Irish Presidency managed to get a “Council common position” in July 2004. An Environment Committee discussion about the MRL directive was scheduled for 25 October and adoption in committee on 24 November. A vote in plenary session is due on 4 December.
Tom Lyall gave some views on the proposed MRL regulation from the perspective of Freshfel Europe, the European association of fresh produce importers, exporters, wholesalers, distributors and retailers (www.freshfel.org). One of its members is Syngenta Seeds.
Freshfel wants more harmonised monitoring and data exchange and recently set up a joint food chain group on pesticides. Dr Lyall said that consumers were being encouraged to eat more fresh produce but had concerns about residues, exacerbated by exceedances, despite its current low level. Freshfel published its Fresh Quality Guide in 2003, a compendium of information on fresh produce marketing in Europe with sponsorship from Syngenta and Fyffes. All general European legislative requirements are detailed in addition to product marketing standards and pesticide residue limits (www.freshquality.org). Freshfel has concerns that it is easy for some non-European countries (e.g. Chile) to export produce to the EU but not always so easy the other way around. The association’s next annual congress, Fresh 2005, will be held in Budapest.
Dr Michael Kaethner (Bayer CropScience) commented that it was inter and intra-community trading that led to most MRL violations, due to the differing limits enshrined in different national legislations. He asked whether CODEX MRL values should be accepted or at least considered as European Community MRLs but was doubtful whether there was much commitment to this idea. Although most conference delegates thought that MRL exceedances would decrease once the new MRL directive was implemented, Dr Kaethner confidently predicted that they would increase and said that there would be some communication challenges ahead to minimise consumer concerns. He also expects that the default levels of 0.01 mg/kg for non-authorised uses could cause problems if a crop were to be ploughed in and a subsequent crop planted.
Dr Kaethner said that the “name and shame policy”, permissible under EU law and practised in the UK, was not fair or helpful. Joop Dornseiffen felt the same way, although some other delegates and speakers did not. The UK government currently spotlights supermarkets exceeding the limits, but not the suppliers or growers.
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