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The future of soil disinfestation in the European regulatory climate

At the 9th International Symposium on soil and substrate disinfestation held in Crete, Greece in September scientific experts of the International Society of Horticultural Science (ISHS), discussed the important challenges faced by European growers due to the lack of plant protection solutions for the effective control of several soil pests (in particular nematodes) and some critical weeds.

The round table discussion focused on a number of concerns:

  • The lengthy registration process in the EU for the authorization of new plant protection products and the cautious approach of EU regulation, as well as restrictions imposed, has led to a reduction of active ingredients available in the past 10 years. Moreover, there is no real distinction between low risk products and conventional agrochemicals in terms of process and registration burden.
  • Following the implementation of Regulation EC 1107/2009, the only tool available to the countries to fill the gaps in local production systems, is Art. 53 of the above-mentioned Regulation, which provides for “derogations” for exceptional authorizations of plant protection products. Such authorizations increased exponentially in past years to compensate for the delays experienced within the European registration system.
  • The above-mentioned EU Regulation has a high socio-economic impact on various production systems in Europe and the Spanish case shows clearly the importance of maintaining a sustainable agricultural activity in local communities that, in the case of the protected crops area, includes 13% of the active population employed in agriculture.
  • Several European agricultural sectors are affected as the EU authority is allowing increased importation from extra-EU countries, considered unfair competition due to the more flexible registration system for plant protection products than that of the EU.
  • There is a need for the political and regulatory entities, having duly assessed the risks involved in respect of environmental and human protection, to support European agriculture and self-sufficiency where possible. To compensate for the disruption created by Regulation EC 1107/2009 there is a need for a more effective and fast evaluation system for naturally occurring and low risk products (biological, plant extracts, etc.), essential for Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programmes.
  • There is also a miscommunication on plant protection products and consumers, in most cases, are not aware that producing without chemistry would lead to substantially reduced productivity and would increase end produce price, as demonstrated by several studies.
  • The scientific community is making very important progress in balancing the use of chemistry with other techniques and understanding the factors influencing the efficacy of such techniques. Knowledge transfer from research and dialogue with the political and regulatory communities is still a key area for improvement, particularly in Europe.

The clear messages from the scientific experts meeting at the Symposium were that these issues must be addressed so that all available tools (including sustainable use of soil disinfestation) can be used in a combined IPM system to allow sustainable production.

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