Sustainable pesticide use

A plane spraying a potato field to guard against Late Blight.

A plane spraying a potato field to guard against Late Blight.

Farmers who use pesticides, and the suppliers who sell them, are gradually becoming more aware of the potential dangers, both to themselves and to consumers.

Aerial spraying in the vicinity of residential areas would not be permitted
- Anne Zammit

Many herbicides, fungicides and pesticides can cause acute and delayed health effects in workers who are exposed to them, unless every precaution is taken.

Up until now, active controls on spraying in areas used by the general public have been too relaxed and are in need of tightening to bring sprayers in line with current legislation.

The Pesticides Control Board came into being in 2001 al­though it was only partially effective since pesticide use was still widely lacking in controls at the time.

A successive string of government departments in the Agriculture Ministry did what they could to improve the situation after Malta became an EU member. Before the competent au­thority switched ministries, courses were organised by the plant health department for farmers and 33 suppliers of pesticides on the correct sale and use of these products.

A framework directive regulating pesticides was transposed into local law last November by Legal Notice 489/2011. The intention is to reduce the risks of pesticides and their impacts on human health and environment while also promoting alternative ways of controlling pests.

The directive calls on member states to draw up a national action plan to reduce potential damage caused by pesticides and set up compulsory training for professional users of pesticides. If followed to the letter, the plan should “contain quantitative objectives, targets, measures and timetables and provide indicators to monitor the use of plant protection products containing active substances of particular concern.”

Comments during the consultation phase reflected discontent in some quarters over the lack of real targets. Yet all agree that the plan is a vast improvement toward better health for humans and the environment.

Malta’s draft national action plan for the sustainable use of pesticides was presented for final consulation earlier this month. The deadline for comments is tomorrow. The final draft must be ready for presentation to the European Commission by next month and will be up for revision every five years.

The plan was presented in brief at a joint MEUSAC consultation meeting with the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority earlier this month. It calls for all professional users of pesticides to be trained and certified by the end of next year, with penalties for unlicensed users as from January 1, 2014.

The Sustainable Use of Pesticides directive 2009/128/EC is coming into force in stages, starting from last year up to 2020. Pesticides (or ‘plant protection products’, which is the wider definition given in the directive) are substances intended to protect plants against harmful organisms, influence plant life processes, preserve plant products or destroy/check/prevent undesired plants.

Inspections for spraying equipment is on the cards. Manually operated pesticide application equipment under a certain size is exempted, while the frequency of checks varies for different types of powered ones.

As a general rule, aerial spraying of any pesticide will be banned, although the action plan does not rule out authorisation in special cases, subject to a number of conditions.

In such an event, the authority would specify measures necessary to warn residents and bystanders in due time and to protect the environment in the vicinity of the area sprayed.

Aerial spraying in the vicinity of residential areas would not be permitted. The legal notice rules against this practice if there is a viable alternative.

Pesticides are to be minimised or prohibited in certain specific areas used by the general public or by vulnerable groups.

Application of plant protection products will be prohibited in public parks and gardens, sports and recreation grounds, school grounds, playgrounds and areas close to healthcare facilities.

Under the water framework directive, areas near boreholes and streams are already subject to buffer zones when it comes to spraying. Areas inside the Natura 2000 conservation network, or defined as vulnerable and at risk of contaminating surface and groundwaters, are also protected by law from pesticide sprayers.

Certification schemes for professional users of pesticides must be in place by next November. A separate licence following a course designed specifically for users of more high-risk products will soon be required.

Small distributors will be exempted from the licensing requirement provided they do not offer for sale products classified as toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic or damaging for reproduction to be used in homes by non-professional users.

Distributors selling pesticides to non-professional users for domestic use in homes and gardens are to provide general information in writing on hazards, exposure, proper storage, handling, application and safe disposal. Accurate and balanced information is also to be made available on low-risk alternatives.

Alternatives to pesticides may include organic farming and natural pest control mechanisms and following an approach based on the balance in agro-ecosystems while keeping pesticide intervention levels as low as possible.

A list of plant protection products approved for use on crops in Malta has been issued this month by the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

Another list of over 100 plant protection products has been revoked, with authorisation expired or withdrawn and a deadline for using up existing stocks, mostly by the end of this year. Hopefully this will not result in inappropriate dumping of unused pesticides or doses being exceeded.

The consumer authority assumed responsibility for monitoring the use of pesticides after absorbing the Malta Standards Authority in 2007.

Testing for pesticide residue on fruit and vegetables destined for consumers started the following year.

Out of 170 samples analysed last year, 62 per cent of the samples had no detectable residue levels and 33 per cent were below the maximum residue level established by the European Commission.

Five per cent of the samples exceeded maximum residue levels. In these cases, or where a residue of a banned plant protection product was found, criminal charges were instituted.

On October 4 the authority released a list of pesticides for which authorisation has been revoked with various deadlines – some have already expired.


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