TOUGHER EU rules on pesticides have lessons for Australia, writes PETER HEMPHILL
A British agricultural biology specialist has warned of the loss of more insecticides, such as cypermethrin, for agricultural use, but said the herbicide glyphosate should remain available to farmers.
An adviser with Britain's National Institute of Agricultural Biology, Jim Orson, told a Grains Research and Development Corporation update in Ballarat last week that cypermethrin was likely to be lost because of exceptionally stringent environmental tolerance levels.
And Mr Orson said although glyphosate had been placed on a preliminary assessment list, he was confident it would be retained for agricultural use.
He said pesticide regulations in the European Union had become tougher since 1991, with chemicals having to be reviewed every 10 years after it was registered.
He said since then, 70 per cent of active substances that had been available in the early 1990s had been lost from agricultural use.
But he said it was not a complete disaster because most of the chemicals were in low demand and were usually applied to minor crops.
He said the chemical manufacturers withdrew most of them from the market because of the low demand or because re-registration was revoked by regulatory authorities.
Mr Orson said in 2009, the EU introduced the Thematic Strategy for Pesticides, which governed pesticide use and monitoring for the first time, plus registration of chemicals.
The strategy directed that the maximum level of pesticides in drinking water should not total more than 0.5 parts per billion and that an individual active substance should not exceed 0.1ppb.
Mr Orson said the EU established a list of priority substances deemed to be harmful to water ecosystems under the Water Framework Directive.
Included in this list were nine pesticides used by Britain's agricultural industry.
"During the re-registration process, all but chlorpyrifos products were withdrawn in the UK," he said.
"However, it may be that the threat to water was not the main reason why some of these failed to get approval.
"Gone are trifluralin, isoproturon, simazine, atrazine, alachlor, chlorfenvinphos and endosulfan."
Mr Orson said diuron was approved in Europe but was on a list of priority chemicals being scrutinised. Chlorpyrifos was "hanging on".
He said once chemicals were added to the list of priority substances, "environmental quality standards" were set to establish the concentration above which they would be a threat to water ecosystems.
Concentrations were generally higher than 0.1ppb, but the EU had set an EQS concentration for cypermethrin of 0.1 parts per trillion.
"That is an amazing standard," he said. "Cypermethrin will go." Mr Orson was confident glyphosate would remain.
"Glyphosate does not move through the soil," he said.
"It ... only gets in the water because farmers put it there ... by being washed down drains in farmyards. It is different to a herbicide, which washes into the ground and into our drainage systems in the fields and then into the waterways."