Towards safer and reduced usage of pesticides

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Source: European Commission, Environment DG

For several years the use of pesticides has been a major policy issue at both European and national level. Consumers have shown concern over possible harmful effects to human health and the environment, and policy makers have reacted by revising existing policy and creating new policy. In March of this year the European Commission completed a review of existing pesticides on the market before 1993 and removed more than two thirds of these substances. They were removed either because dossiers were not submitted, incomplete or withdrawn by industry or because substances failed the review1.

As part of the Commission's strategy to ensure safer use of pesticides2 a new legislative framework has recently been adopted that includes a regulation specifying stricter criteria for approval of pesticides and a directive on the sustainable use of pesticides3. This special issue intends to examine current research that could influence future policy in this important area.

Considering the health risks surrounding pesticide use, the article 'Can herbicides increase pancreatic cancer risk?' investigates 24 pesticides and associates two herbicides with a risk of developing pancreatic cancer. One of these has been the subject of a recent proposal to withdraw it from EU approved pesticides. Also considering health impacts, the article 'Greek olive oils contain no harmful levels of pesticides' offers a more positive conclusion. This demonstrates that a range of olive oils have low levels of pesticide residue and do not pose a health risk.

In terms of the environmental impacts the article 'Soil microorganisms help prevent non-target effects of pesticides' provides evidence that certain types of soil cause pesticides to cling to soil particles which reduces their effects on non-target species. This beneficial effect is thought to be caused by the presence of microorganisms.

The article 'How much are consumers willing to pay to reduce pesticide use?' provides a direct link to policy by estimating how much people would be willing to pay for food to reduce the impact of pesticides on health and the environment. It considers these impacts separately and calculates the corresponding level of tax.

Another important area of European strategy is in the development of biological or non-chemical pesticides as replacements for conventional pesticides. The article 'Fungi and roundworms as non-chemical substitutes for pesticides' identifies three possible alternatives that could be used on their own or in combination with traditional pesticides. Finally the article 'Eucalyptus essential oil as an alternative to chemical pesticides' outlines a number of different uses for eucalyptus which again could contribute to reduced use of conventional pesticides.

Policy makers have clearly acknowledged the public concern over pesticide use. By using the results and recommendations of relevant research they can continue to build on previous policy and successfully manage the production and use of pesticides in the future.

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