Toxic problem: ecologists call for European standards for pesticide control

“Are pesticides that are recognised as toxic in Europe  safe in Ukraine?”  This alarming question was the topic of a round table held in December by the international charitable organisation, Environment-People-Law, and the Reanimation Package of Reforms.

There is good reason for the anxiety surrounding this question. The Ukrainian agricultural sector’s use of hazardous substances is currently very far from European standards.

At the end of November, the European Union decided to extend permission to use glyphosate in agriculture for five years.   Glyphosate is a herbicide that has been widely used in the EU to protect crops in recent decades, as well as in Ukraine and many other parts of the world.

Discussions on glyphosate have been ongoing in the European Union for years and the European Parliament recently passed a resolution to gradually eliminate use of the substance, with a full ban planned by 2022. The November decision was somewhat of a compromise.  

In Ukraine, environmental organisations have initiated discussions on limiting the use of hazardous pesticides. Research has proven that  glyphosate can cause cancer and significant environmental damage. At the recent round table, participants also discussed the use of atrazine and acetochlor, which are already banned in the European Union but are still being used in Ukrainian fields.

But the use of these and other agrochemicals is only half of the problem.

Alla Voytsikhovska

“Today about 1,100 pesticides are registered in Ukraine, ” says Alla Voytsikhovska, ecologist with the with Environment-People-Law. 

“However, state control over their use is practically non-existent. “

According to Voytsikhovska, this gap is a result of the 2016 reorganisation of Ukraine’s Sanitary and Epidemiological Service (SES).

“Responsibility for supervision of pesticides use from SES was passed to the State Service for Food Safety and Consumer Protection while the laboratories of the former SES, which once controlled pesticide use, remained subordinate to the Ministry of Health, and no longer exercise any control functions,” says Voytsikhovska. “At the same time, out of the 24 regional offices of the State Ecological Inspection, only three have laboratories certified to conduct studies on the level of pesticides in soil and water samples and those laboratories  do not have any control over the use of these pesticides. “

Because of this system, the State Service for Food Safety and Consumer Protection and the State Environmental Inspection Agency only examine existing documentation on enterprises’ use of pesticides. Voytsikhovska says no government body provides real monitoring and control over use of pesticides and their presence in water, air, and soil.agriculture-89168

The modernisation of Ukraine’s pesticide control system is being funded by the European Union Twinning project. The project is aimed at approximating Ukrainian legislation with EU norms on methods of plant protection, and improving related inspections and laboratory services. The project is being implemented by the State Service for Food Safety and Consumer Protection.

raivis grosbardis
Raivis Grosbardis

“Our task is to restore control as such,” says the project’s permanent advisor, Raivis Grosbardis. 

“Today there is almost no control on the state side – neither in sales of plant protection products, nor in their use. To remedy the situation, we are working on a draft law on plant protection and quarantine. That future law will provide a foundation for the reestablishment of government control. “

Grosbardis says that the law would also require that sellers of plant protection products provide certificates, ensuring that hazardous chemicals are not sold to people without proper knowledge and education. The same approach is planned to apply to those working directly with the chemicals in the fields.

The law is also expected to ensure that consultants on the use of agrochemicals obtain such certificates. Additionally, regular inspections of pesticide sprayers on the correctness and accuracy of their work will be a new process in Ukraine.

Grosbardis hopes that the bill will be ready by the end of 2017 and that it will be released for public comment to all interested organisations and structures at the beginning of next year.

By adopting such a law, Ukraine will be implementing several provisions of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement on the environmentally sustainable use of pesticides, and on what chemicals are permitted to be added to food products.

It is possible the law will be passed next year, but the problem of the uncontrolled use of pesticides is already acute; it has a direct impact on the safety and health of citizens. And the pesticide situation relates to another problem: the moratorium on scheduled inspections of agricultural businesses, which has been in effect as of August 2014 and is renewed annually.toxics

Environmentalists have long been alarmed at the uncontrolled use of pesticides.  Voytsikhovska gives many examples of how this lack of government control, coupled with irresponsible behaviour or incompetence on the part of agricultural enterprises, has led to deaths among bees, rabbits, and poultry.

In May of this year, 13 environmental organisations described the problem in a letter to the President of Ukraine, but it was delegated to the Cabinet and went no further. Following the abovementioned round table held within the framework of the EU project, “Ukrainian Civil Society for European Waste Management”, environmentalists again appealed to the government with proposals that could improve the situation now.

In particular, environmentalists propose to include atrazine, glyphosate, acetochlor, and all their forms on the list of chemicals prohibited for use in Ukraine and to revoke their government approval.

They also suggest developing an order for state control over legislation on pesticides and agrochemicals to be approved through government decree.

In the end, it will also be necessary to change the legislation and end the moratorium on inspections of business entities dealing with pesticides and agrochemicals.