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Biodiversity and animal protection: Akademie Fresenius Conference discussed the new demands now facing pesticide risk assessment

On 5 and 6 December 2019, participants were invited by Akademie Fresenius to attend their 19th international symposium “Aquatic and Terrestrial Ecotoxicology and Risk Management” in Cologne/Germany. Top-ranking speakers from Europe and Canada discussed the hazard potential of existing and new environmental chemicals for the ecosystem. Many of the presentations and discussions focussed on the demands for stricter regulations for environmental impact assessments that consider biodiversity and avoid animal testing.

Christopher John Topping from Aarhus University sharply criticised current pesticide assessment and authorisation practices within the EU: He asked what was going wrong, if pesticides could cause damage despite the strict guidelines for checking environmental risk and came to the conclusion that current processes for assessing environmental risk needed to take a more systematic and integrated approach. 

Now called for: Paradigm shift and holistic approach

Topping called for a paradigm shift and changes at many different levels. For example, he said that multiple stressors needed to be given more consideration and individual pesticides authorised for smaller regions rather than for whole countries. Such a systematic approach to risk assessment would supply risk managers with important information on risk mitigation measures and also provide them with clues as to what effects reducing the use of a specific agent would have from an agronomic and socio-economic perspective. According to Topping, using a systematic approach in which the authorisation of pesticides was more closely connected with the actual application context could lead to an increase in the transparency of the decisions made in the risk management area.

Federal Environment Office calls for new paths of protecting biodiversity from the effects of pesticide use

Jörn Wogram explained why the Federal Environment Office is suggesting that more attention be paid to the effects on biodiversity in the authorisation process. Current risk assessment procedures are blind to the effects on agricultural herbs in a field that served as food sources for insects and field birds. That means that it is impossible to gain a complete record of the effects of a pesticide on the ecosystem of a specific area as a whole. To date, no one has been able to clearly answer the question as to how plant protection could be changed to allow the biodiversity in a crop stock to be restored. This is why alternative habitats, where animals and plants are protected, needed to be created as a substitute where pesticides are used, Wogram went on to say. “If risk mitigation methods do not take effect, we must provide for retreat areas”, he continued. 

Agrargenossenschaft Trebbin: Measures to preserve biodiversity whilst retaining agricultural productivity

Thomas Gäbert demonstrated how compensation measures can be implemented to protect biodiversity whilst still allowing farmers plenty of land for production – using the Agrargenossenschaft Trebbin agricultural cooperative as an example. The measures include establishing a combination of many different specials of perennial blooms, providing nesting aids for songbirds and perches for birds of prey, as well as creating sources of diverse breeding habitants through open areas of ground, such as sandy paths and wasteland and as well vertical aborted edges. Since 2016, the cooperative has established a total of around 50 different species of plants that provide food and a habitat for insects, birds and small game – with an impressive success record: The lapwing, for example, has returned and settled down. 

Better data generation – avoidance of animal testing

The EU wants to regulate endocrine disruptors (ED) – often colloquially called “environmental hormones” – more strictly. In November 2018, they adopted a strategy to this effect and now plan to examine the legal provisions on endocrine disruptors as to their suitability. In her programme for the new EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen specifically highlighted protecting the population from endocrine disruptors. Experts anticipate that stricter requirements for evaluating the risk of endocrine disruptors may lead to a perceptible rise in the amount of animal testing carried out, if the development and implementation of alternative methods is not accelerated. Natalie Burden of the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) also shares these fears. The research sector and authorisation procedures could manage with fewer animal trials, if better use were made of the available data and extrapolation techniques used more intensively than to date: “It is possible to reduce mandatory tests – or to refine them – and to examine the advantages provided by alternative approaches in all sectors and for all end points”, Natalie Burden stated.

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