FSC back-tracking on pesticides; Board caves in to industry pressure?

As with the development of many other FSC policies, the finalisation of its policy on the use of pesticides has been long and complicated. But at least it seemed to have come to a fairly clear result, when a new policy, and clear guidelines for implementing it, were adopted by the FSC Board at the end of 2005. But this has again all been thrown into doubt, following the most recent FSC Board meeting, which was attended and heavily lobbied by an industry delegation.

Under the rules established in 2005, substances that are defined as ‘highly hazardous’ are ‘banned’ from use in FSC-certified forests. The list of such pesticides includes 35 new substances that were not already covered by an older FSC policy on pesticide use. Under the 2005 rules, companies wishing to use these substances – or already using them at the time the new policy was adopted – have to apply to the FSC for a ‘derogation’, i.e., special permission to be exempted from the rules. Companies were given until the end of 2006 to apply for derogations for the use of the 35 newly listed pesticides.

However, the FSC Board meeting in November 2006 decided that companies could be given more time to apply for permission to use these ‘highly hazardous’ substances, and the deadline for requests was put back to June 30th, 2007. According to Frank Katto – the person in the FSC Secretariat responsible for administering pesticide derogations – the Board is actually also undertaking an ‘ongoing review’ of the pesticide policies it had taken only a year earlier. FSC-Watch wonders whether this is any way connected to the fact that an industry delegation attended the FSC Board meeting where this decision was taken, and asked FSC to ‘take a new approach to the issue of pesticides’.

In one case at least, the FSC Board’s decision to keep the doors open to the pesticide-users would seem to be very opportune for a major plantation company that is FSC-certified but reliant on the use of ‘highly hazardous’ substances. The Irish state forestry company Coillte, (the certification of which has already been reported on several times on FSC-Watch) applied earlier in 2006 for a derogation for the use of alpha-cypermethrin. This chlorinated hydrocarbon, which is ‘acutely toxic’ to aquatic ecosystems (i.e., it is very good at killing fish and other water-living wildlife) is needed by Coillte for the treatment of the roots of new seedlings of the exotic trees which it has been planting in vast monocultures over large parts of Ireland’s landscape.

Under FSC’s pesticide rules, permission can only be granted for the use of banned substances if the country’s FSC National Initiative has agreed to the derogation. But in the case of Ireland, the Irish Forestry Certification Initiative, which is officially recognised by the FSC, did not approve the use of alpha-cypermethrin when it voted on the derogation request in December 2006. The application by Coillte to use the pesticide should therefore be rejected outright by the FSC Secretariat. But the new FSC Board decision will allow more time for Coillte to try and get the derogation accepted. Perhaps the FSC Board and Secretariat is even considering dropping the requirement that derogations have to be approved by the recognised FSC National Initiative – thus freeing up the path for companies and the FSC to agree between themselves on what pesticides are, or are not, allowable.

FSC-Watch invites the FSC Secretariat and Board to make public the names of the industry delegation which attended the international Board meeting in November, as well as the names of the companies which the members of that delegation represent.

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