Herbicide paraquat approved for sale in Europe

BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 6, 2003 (ENS): Paraquat, the world's second most widely used herbicide after glyphosate, is to be re-registered for the European Union market after a European Union standing committee vote last week. The decision was taken despite opposition from several EU countries. It sparked protests from environmental groups, trade unions and Members of the European Parliament.

Paraquat was among several substances considered last week by the EU Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. The substance is banned in Austria, Denmark, Finland and Sweden, and restricted in Germany. The first four countries opposed re-registration but failed to muster a blocking minority.

Paraquat's main manufacturer, Syngenta, was pleased by the decision, which it said "affirms recommendations for approval" by the European Commission and a positive opinion by the EU scientific committee on plants.

“Syngenta welcomes this scienc based conclusion, which continues to give European farmers a very valuable and environmentally friendly tool for their crop protection needs,” said Piet Smits, regional head of Syngenta crop protection in Europe. “The decision underlines the safety of our product for users, consumers, and the environment.”

In October 2000 AstraZeneca and Novartis merged their agribusiness interests to become Syngenta, the world's largest agro corporation.

Paraquat, under the Syngenta trademark Gramoxone, has been used "safely and effectively" by farmers in some 120 countries worldwide for more than 40 years, Smits said.

But Danish legislator Pernille Frahm of the European United Left group said the vote meant EU environmental policy risked "regressing rather than progressing."

The European Union, she claimed, "is intending to weaken our environmental protection laws, against the will of our governments."

A coalition of environmental groups and trade unions called chemical "one of the most dangerous and controversial herbicides in the world."

Ron Oswald, secretary general of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations, said the decision would "allow greater use of this toxic substance and could force it back on the market in countries where it is currently banned."

"The Commission´s approval of paraquat for the EU-wide marketing is irresponsible," said John Hontelez, secretary general of the European Environmental Bureau, a federation of 134 member organizations in 25 countries.

"We urgently need a general reform of Europe’s chemical policy, which prevents serious or long term damage to human health and environment by forcing the substitution of such unacceptable chemicals with safer alternatives," Hontelez said.

In July, the Pesticide Action Network Germany issued a statement warning of links between paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s disease.

Environmental NGOs and trade unions demanded that the Commission take note of the growing opposition to the approval of paraquat and "reverse its decision, prioritizing the protection of human health and the environment," the coalition said Friday in a statement.

Paraquat is used on plantations of bananas, cocoa, coffee, cotton, palm oil, pineapple, rubber, and sugar cane, and by small farmers. Paraquat has been criticized for its adverse impact on workers since the 1960s, says the Swiss environmental group Berne Declaration. "Workers and farmers who handle paraquat on a regular basis experience serious health problems. There is no antidote and many people die from the effects of paraquat," the organization warns.

Scientists fear that the herbicide may be accumulating in the soil. Recent studies indicate that mammals, birds, fish, and amphibians are affected.

{ENDS Environment Daily contributed to this report.}
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