EU Just Banned this Popular Fungicide Over Safety Concerns

The EU has banned the UK’s most-used fungicide after experts were unable to rule out the possibility that it could harm animal life.

The fungicide, known as chlorothalonil, prevents mildew and mold on crops such as wheat, barley, tomatoes and potatoes. Like many other pesticides, reassuring safety tests at small scale have wrongly been assumed to hold true at larger scale. The EU is now combing through the data on pesticides to see what impacts, if any, they find when farms use pesticides at the massive scale we see today in factory farming.

In one such recent review, experts at the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) dug into the research surrounding what effects chlorothalonil has on animal life. It found that for larger mammals the risk was low, but for small mammals (like mice) who may feed on tomatoes the risk was higher—though still below the so-called “trigger” for further action. The report identified a data gap on this, however, that it says needs to be filled.

More concerning was the data on chlorothalonil’s effects on aquatic life. The review found that “a high risk to aquatic organisms (with the exception of aquatic plants for all uses) was concluded for all the representative uses and for most of the FOCUS scenarios at Step 3 level” for use of chlorothalonil and the chemicals it breaks down into.

Further refinements of the data concluded that the risk to fish was actually low. However, amphibians were found to be much more sensitive to exposure than fish, and the acute risk remained high. The report identifies a data gap here, as well. They aren’t sure precisely how high the risk is to amphibians, only that further research studies have not ruled it out in some instances, for example where the fungicide is used on cereal and tomato crops.

The report further found that risk assessments for the impact on bees—a particular species of concern as a result of bee declines related in part to our use of neonicotinoids—showed broadly that there was low risk but that there were gaps in the data, such as honey bee exposure through ground water.

Perhaps more concerning, the report found that there was no data for the cumulative risk—multi-generation exposure over years—to wild bees. Scientists previously linked chlorothalonil exposure to bumble bee declines, so this data gap in the safety profile of chlorothalonil continues to be a red flag.

The Efsa concluded that it was unable to rule out that the breakdown of this fungicide in our environment will not cause harm to the DNA of small animals, particularly amphibians and some insects. That doesn’t mean that the Efsa has found a direct link between things like, declining bee numbers and this fungicide. Rather, it’s saying that it can’t rule out the possibility that this fungicide is harmful when used at the scale we now see in places like the UK, Europe and the US.

As a result, Europe’s member states overwhelmingly voted not to continue approval for the fungicide’s use until the data gaps have been filled.

“The [chlorothalonil ban] is based on Efsa’s scientific assessment which concluded that the approval criteria do not seem to be satisfied for a wide range of reasons,” a European commission spokeswoman told the Guardian. “Great concerns are raised in relation to contamination of groundwater by metabolites of the substance.”

Farming groups have reacted negatively to the news, saying that this will impact yields, particularly of wheat.

“We feel the Commission has been overly precautionary in making this decision and has failed to consider the particular importance of this active in the control of critical fungal diseases and in managing disease resistance.” Dr Chris Hartfield, NFU senior regulatory affairs adviser, told Farmers Guardian. “As a result, we believe sectors of UK agricultural and horticultural production will be put at significant risk.”

Defra has not said whether it will consider reinstating the fungicide’s use after Brexit. However, as the use of fungicides could impact trade with the EU it is unclear whether the UK would want to flout this rule even if technically can.

In defense of the farming sector, environmental campaigners point out that if the EU had applied its safety guidelines uniformly to begin with, chlorothalonil may not have become as ubiquitous in modern farming as it is today and swathes of crops would not hinge on its use.

As it stands, there are some bright spots. farmers could potentially find crops that are already resistant to the fungal diseases for which chlorothalonil offered protection. That is not a complete remedy, though, as resistance does not equal eradication of the threat. Farming groups are now likely to look to other pesticides to help bridge the gap in protection—something which carries its own drawbacks.

While the vast majority of pesticides in the EU are likely safe, we are now having to comb back through old data to look at the potential impact of pesticides that should have been properly tested at large scale to begin with. It is not just procedurally sound to halt the use of chlorothalonil until we have those assurances. It is the most ethical thing to do.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

48 comments

Alice L
Alice L6 days ago

Thanks for posting

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berny p
berny p7 days ago

Better late then never!

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Cathy B
Cathy B9 days ago

A step in the right direction!

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Lorraine Andersen

Good for the EU to be keeping an eye on things and banning them unlike here where roundup is still found on every shelf in Lowes and Home Depot!.

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Patricia A
Patricia A11 days ago

thanks

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Sofia A
Sofia Abreu12 days ago

Great news! It's a very small price to pay for advances such as this!

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Tabot T
Tabot T12 days ago

Thanks for sharing!

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Ruth G
Ruth G12 days ago

Good ,less harmful pollution.This ban will affect the uk & Ireland more than other countries as maritime areas prone to wet weather depleting yields but Im afraid it is a price we will have to pay!

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Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola12 days ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Anna R
Anna R12 days ago

Thank you

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