Plans to water down the criteria for pesticides are seen as a blow to both environemnt and consumer protection. Experts warn that blindly following EU-wide standards is the wrong approach.
One pesticide law to rule them all? No thanks, experts say
The German Ministry for Agriculture is mulling plans to change the way that pesticides are approved and permitted to be used within Germany. The idea is that approval for new pesticides is to be standardized across Europe so that if a new pesticide gets approved in one country, other countries would simply have to follow suit. Deutsche Welle spoke to Florian Schröder of the environmentalist NGO NABU about the risks and dangers of the proposed plans.
Deutsche Welle: How would the new legislation work?
Florian Schröder: In effect, a company could have its new pesticide green-lighted in any EU country and Germany would have to accept that decision. Until now, Germany conducted its own testing and then had the choice to veto a pesticide even if a neighboring country allowed it to be introduced.
For instance, a chemical company could go to Romania and get the approval that the new product is safe. Germany would then no longer have a say in the matter. The government's environmental agency would be allowed to comment, but lose its right to veto. And that way, the pesticide could find it's way to Germany through a detour via Romania after all.
The authorities are trying to silence environmental concerns under the pretence of simplifying the administrational process.
Germany banned neonicotinoids over negative effects on bee colonies
Can you give an example of a pesticide where that would be a problem?
There are a number of substances that are categorized differently across Europe. One example would be a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids which is very controversial and is seen differently across Europe. It's believed to have a massive impact on bee populations. That's why we have to insist that Germany will also in the future be able to conduct its own assessment and decide from case to case whether or not to introduce a new pesticide.
But Germany is currently being rocked by a Dioxin scandal that's made headlines across Europe. And there's a big discussion going on about food quality standards. So in times like this, watering down the pesticide standards is really the worst possible thing the German agriculture ministry could come forward with. After all, the ministry is for both agriculture and consumer protection.
But wouldn't a more standardized EU standard make more sense?
Of course, and already we are implementing EU regulations. But the point is that presently we have a clause that says that national differences justify additional checks. Such a difference can, for instance, be a species that's endangered in Germany, but maybe not in other countries. That means Berlin has a responsibility to take such issues into account.
Therefore each country has the right, and the obligation, to not simply adopt an approval given somewhere else. Germany for instance has much more intensive agriculture than some other EU countries. So there's considerably fewer areas of refuge for animals, insects or plants than in other countries. Take, for instance, the broad-spectrum herbicide glyphosate. Now to come back to the earlier example of Romania; in Romania using that herbicide might be perfectly fine because there's less intensive agriculture. In Germany however, that same pesticide would cause much more damage.
Using the wrong pesticides can have serious consequences for the ecosystem
So those pesticides are dangerous mostly for the ecological system? Not for the consumer?
Yes, but these two things can, of course, not always be separated. If a pesticide leaves traces in the water, then this of course has consequences for the quality of the drinking water in that region and therefore consequences for the consumer.
So it's good that, with regards to pesticides, there's the option for each country to go beyond the existing EU standards and that right should remain the way it is. Each country has to reserve the right to quickly check any pesticide before it enters a national market. Otherwise the new law would be a serious blow to both the environment and to consumer protection. Any pesticide would thenenter Germany through the backdoor - even those that, so far, have been banned.
Will the government be able to push the legislation through?
The government has twice tried to introduce those changes and both times they failed, so that's a good sign. The ministry really has to consider whether such a debate is a good idea at a time when we already have a huge food scandal making headlines. And from what I know, the environemnt minister has already said that he will try to put a stop to those plans. So we're optimistic that we can prevent those plans from actually being implemented.
Interview: Andreas Illmer
Editor: Stuart Tiffen