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Saturday 15 December 2018

Commission moves step closer to ban on key tillage fungicide

EU Commission officials are pushing for a ban on the chemical, chlorothalonil. File photo
EU Commission officials are pushing for a ban on the chemical, chlorothalonil. File photo

Sarah Collins

Proposals for an EU ban on the key tillage fungicide chlorothalonil will be put to officials from member states at a meeting in Brussels today, reports Sarah Collins.

EU Commission officials are pushing for a ban on the chemical which is due for re-authorisation at the end of this year, but it’s not clear if a majority of member states will support the move.

Ireland, the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands, the bloc’s major users of the chemical — most commonly branded as Bravo — are lobbying to keep it on the market.

The European Food Safety Agency found that the chemical is “very toxic” and that available data “does not permit the conclusion that… any harmful effect on human or animal health can be excluded”.

A Teagasc report has warned that banning chlorothalonil would have a devastating impact on the tillage sector. It estimates that net margins for wheat and barley growers would decline by 50pc and 65pc respectively without access to the chemical.

Ireland, the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands - the bloc's major users of the chemical - are lobbying to keep it on the market. But the positions of France and Germany, key players needed for a majority decision, are unclear.

Chlorothalonil is the main ingredient in Bravo, a fungicide made by global agri-chemical giant Syngenta. It's most commonly used on cereals, tomatoes and potatoes.

It is also produced by US-based Arysta LifeScience.

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A study published in January by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) found that the chemical causes kidney tumours in rats, and is "very toxic", even fatal, if inhaled. It recommends farm workers wear protective equipment when spraying.

EFSA also cited concerns over missing information in the studies conducted by the manufacturers.

The data "does not permit the conclusion that… any harmful effect on human or animal health can be excluded," EFSA said.

A Teagasc report has warned that banning chlorothalonil would have a devastating impact on the Irish tillage sector, saying it could reduce net margins for wheat and barley growers by 50pc and 65pc respectively.

"Cereal production would only be economic on the highest yielding sites with low costs of production as the risks of economic loss will increase dramatically on other sites," Teagasc said.

Irish growers would also "lose competitiveness as it is anticipated that other regions outside Ireland will not suffer the same losses, and consequently grain prices will not rise in Ireland to offset yield losses".

Chlorothalonil is widely used in the US, and one EU source said there is growing fears that a ban would damage transatlantic trade relations at an already sensitive time.

Phased out

The Trump administration and EU officials are in talks on a limited trade deal, which does not include agriculture (except soybeans).

But a row over US steel and aluminium tariffs (and EU retaliatory measures) threatens to escalate this autumn.

"That whole relationship is already difficult enough," one EU source told Farming Independent. "If we ban it now, how will that help talks with the US?"

Any ban would apply gradually, with a phase-out period. Last year, the Commission reauthorised the use of the herbicide glyphosate for five years but intends to phase out its use in the future.

The Commission will make its case on banning Chlorothalonil at a two-day meeting this week of the EU's Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed which is responsible for all chemical approvals.

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