Chlorothalonil: Could Ireland make a case to Europe?

There may be a case for Ireland to seek a special dispensation for the continued use of the fungicide chlorothalonil – if Irish experts can bring forth a strong enough argument, according to MEP Mairead McGuinness.

Speaking on the latest episode of FarmLand, the First Vice President of the European Parliament explained to presenter Claire Mc Cormack the process in Europe currently underway on the relicensing of Chlorothalonil, which looks likely to be banned in the near future.

The Midlands-North West MEP said: “If you look at some of the reports and research, there’s a suggestion that chemicals react differently in different soils and perhaps an overarching decision on a chemical may not be appropriate – but that would be down to the scientists in Ireland and the experts to come up with an evaluation that this product can be used safely in Ireland.

“If they can’t do that, then it’s very unlikely that they will go to the committee and reject the proposal to ban this product,” McGuinness said.

So, I think we have to be sensitive to the evidence, and those who have the expertise in this area, if they really believe this product can be used safely in Ireland, and is necessary, then to put forward that particular case.

However, the MEP tempered this with caution, adding: “I’m not so sure whether in a situation where there’s a lot of publicity around a particular chemical being banned and we continue to use it, whether that might have consequences.

“It’s certainly an issue that we need to discuss openly and I know for a lot of tillage farmers the margins are very tight.

“They’ve had difficult years; the idea of not having these particular chemicals to use would have consequences.

“Nonetheless, the balance for the commission and indeed the experts around the table which would include an Irish expert, if this product is banned, they take into account all of the new evidence that comes forward.”

Health and safety

Turning to the topic of health and safety, the MEP noted that, while yield losses and additional difficulties for farmers have been noted, these need to be balanced with the scientific evaluation of the cost to the environment or the farmer’s health of products up for debate in Europe.

“And when I talk to grain farmers, we have made huge strides in training the operators, wearing the proper equipment.

“I recall when my father would use agro chemicals and he would not wear a mask or would not protect himself.

So I think that farmers, particularly contractors and tillage farmers, are very aware that the products they’re dealing with need to be treated with respect – because they can have negative impacts.

“And that’s why the training and the regulation – and now the more rigorous assessment – of agro chemicals is just part of that process.”

McGuinness highlighted that the European Commission’s particular concerns with chlorothalonil centre around human health issues and danger to aquatic life.

“If you look at it – and I’m sure many of your viewers will be able to Google this – but you find in Ireland where they are detecting traces of chemicals in the water systems.

Farmers don’t want that and therefore we are adhering to wider buffer strips and everything to do with safe and sustainable use.

“So we have to reduce the level of risk of it entering the waterway, and of course for those who operate, these chemicals need to be handled with great care.

Ireland ‘leading the way’

“But on that score I think Ireland perhaps is leading the way on that; because when I talk to colleagues from other member states they don’t seem to have the same rigour around the gear that tillage farmers would wear.

“But I think that is very prudent for people to protect themselves,” McGuinness concluded.