Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Seventh Report

31 Approval of agricultural pesticides




COM(06) 290

Draft Council Directive amending Council Directive 91/414/EEC to include azinphos-methyl as an active substance



COM(06) 295

Draft Council Directive amending Council Directive 91/414/EEC to include methamidophos as an active substance

Legal baseArticle 6(1) of Council Directive 91/414/EEC
DepartmentEnvironment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 9 October 2006
Previous Committee ReportHC 34-xxxv (2005-06), para 2 (12 July 2006)
Discussed in Council18 and 25 September 2006
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


31.1 Council Directive 91/414/EEC[80] regulates the use within the Community of plant protection products (agricultural pesticides). In particular, it provides that only those products which have been specifically authorised following rigorous safety testing should be put on the market, and that such authorisations should be regularly reviewed. Those products which have been authorised are added to Annex I of the Directive by means of measures enacted by the Commission, though where these do not receive the necessary qualified majority, they have to be submitted to the Council for a decision within three months, failing which the Commission is free to adopt its original proposal.

The current proposals

31.2 For some years now, a review has been carried out of about 90 of the 1,000 or so authorised products, and the Commission had proposed that eight such pesticides[81] should be approved subject to certain restrictions on the crops on which they can be used, and to this decision being reviewed in seven, rather than the usual ten years. However, when these proposals were put to the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health in March 2006, they did not receive the necessary qualified majority, and consequently they were submitted to the Council in June 2006, which then had until 27 September 2006 to reach a decision.

31.3 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 7 July 2006, the Minister for Sustainable Farming and Food at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker) told us that, on the basis of the extensive scientific review carried out, six of these substances — carbendazim, dinocap, fenarimol, flusilazole, procymidone and vinclozin — had satisfied the Directive's prescribed risk assessment, and that their inclusion in Annex I of the Directive had been supported by the UK.

31.4 However, azinphos-methyl and methamidophos are both organophosphorus insecticides with a relatively high toxicity to man and other species, and neither is currently approved in this country. Consequently, the UK — along with most other Member States — took the view that their safe use had not been demonstrated, and that they should therefore be withdrawn. However, the Commission had attempted in these proposals to reconcile diverging views among Member States, and previous negotiations suggested that the Council would be unlikely to agree significant changes. The Government therefore recognised that the proposals on the table were probably the best outcome which can realistically be expected, and could accept them as such.

31.5 In our Report of 12 July 2006, we said that, whilst we were content to clear the six proposals supported by the UK, we viewed with some concern the prospect of two insecticides (azinphos-methyl and methamidophos) whose safe use has not been demonstrated being approved. We therefore proposed to hold these two documents under scrutiny, though we recognised that it might be difficult for the Government to secure changes in the Council, and that, since the Commission was in any case free to adopt its original proposals if the Council had not acted by the end of September, it would be necessary for the UK to vote on them before we were able to consider them again. Nevertheless, on the basis that it was important that we should be able to report the outcome to the House, we asked the Minister to continue to keep us informed of developments.

Minister's letter of 9 October 2006

31.6 We have now received from the Minister a letter of 9 October 2006, indicating that the proposal for azinphos-methyl had been rejected by a majority of Member States at the Agriculture Council on 18 September, and had consequently been returned to the Commission, which had since said that it does not intend to bring forward any further proposal for this substance. The existing approval will therefore lapse by default at the end of 2006.

31.7 In the case of methamidophos, the Council initially reached no opinion, which would normally have led to its adoption by the Commission. However, given the predominant opinion against it, the Commission had agreed to reconsider the position, and came forward with a revised proposal to approve the substance for only 18 months (as opposed to the seven years initially proposed, or the ten years which are standard). However, although the UK continued to vote against it, there was no qualified majority within the Competitiveness Council on 25 September, and the proposal will now be adopted by the Commission.


31.8 We note that the approval of one of the substances about which the UK had reservations has now been withdrawn, and that the other has been approved for a limited period. We also recognise that, once a proposal of this kind has been made by the Commission, it requires a significant majority within the Council to over-turn it. To that extent, therefore, the outcome on these two remaining substances is more favourable than might originally have been expected. Nevertheless, in now clearing both these documents, we feel it right to draw to the attention of the House the fact that a pesticide, not previously used within the UK, will now have a limited approval for the next eighteen months.

80   OJ No. L 230, 19.8.1991, p.1. Back

81   Azinphos-methyl, carbendazim, dinocap, fenarimol, flusilazole, methamidophos, procymidone and vinclozin. Back

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