SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
15 March 2018
Volume 19 Issue 3

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In Search for the Holy Grail: How Can We Improve Regulatory-Relevant Environmental Risk Assessments of Plant Protection Products for Soil and Non-target Organisms?

Patrick Kabouw, BASF

The Motivation

Sustaining healthy soil and arthropod communities in agricultural systems is of utmost importance for stopping biodiversity loss and maintaining sustainable food production. To drive developments in the environmental risk assessment (ERA) for soil and non-target arthropods (NTAs) in the context of the regulation of plant protection products (PPPs) in the European Union, SETAC organized a “Workshop on Terrestrial Environmental Risk Assessment of Plant Protection Products: Non-target Arthropods and Soil Invertebrates.” The workshop was organized by Maria Arena, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA); Mike Coulson, Exponent; Patrick Kabouw, BASF; Karin Niensted, EU Commission; Silvia Pieper, German Federal Environment Agency (UBA); Jörg Römbke, ECT Oekotoxikologie GmbH; Kees Van Gestel, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam; and Elisa Viñuela, Technical University of Madrid.


Workshop participants
Figure 1: The workshop participants with a can-do attitude

To further develop the ERA process for NTAs and soil invertebrates, a group of experts with a “can-do” attitude (Figure 1) met for the SETAC workshop from 12–14 February 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. The workshop considered knowledge generated by previous work, such as scientific publications, EFSA scientific opinions and other workshops, and more (Figure 2). Plenary talks by Jörg Römbke (soil invertebrates), Mike Coulson (NTAs) and Silvia Pieper (similarities and differences in the ERA for soil invertebrates and NTAs) highlighted that knowledge. The steering committee acknowledged that every scientifically sound environmental risk assessment should start with setting protection goals. Presently, these protection goals are discussed in a risk manager context. We, the SETAC community, can and should help by generating scientific data to empower decision-makers with a good baseline for their decisions. Therefore, the focus of the workshop was on the appropriate testing and assessment methodology (Figure 3) to make progress in the scientific evaluation of potential risks for soil invertebrates and NTA exposed to PPPs.

Making Progress

Potential overall framework
Figure 2: Framework of this workshop and path forward

Three research questions were addressed to improve the relevance of current environmental risk assessments of PPPs in the European Union.

  1. How could direct and indirect effects be covered in the ERA of soil invertebrates and NTAs?
  2. How can links between exposure and effects on a spatial scale be improved? In what cases could a spatial explicit exposure and effect assessment be of benefit?
  3. How can risk assessment schemes be calibrated?

These questions were introduced by three speakers, Frank Bakker with Eurofins spoke to direct and indirect effects, Andreas Focks with Wageningen Environmental Research addressed linking exposure and effects on a spatial scale and Gregor Ernst with Bayer AG took on calibrating NTA and soil risk assessment. Then, in breakout groups, the questions were discussed. A plenary session followed. Paul van den Brink, Wageningen University, acted as workshop rapporteur and summarized the consensus, research gaps and points where further discussion is needed. 

Way Forward

Elements of a risk assessment
Figure 3: Scope of the SETAC Workshop on Terrestrial Environmental Risk Assessment of Plant Protection Products: Non-target Arthropods and Soil Invertebrates.

The workshop attendees decided upon two ways forward. First, the lessons learned will be summarized in the workshop proceedings and in a scientific publication. Second, the search for the holy grail will continue (Figure 3). The steering committee will facilitate the organization of a new workshop and the installment of a new workshop committee. This second workshop should take place once protection goals have been agreed upon. Volunteers are needed for this task. The job requires a can-do attitude and a belief that a better and improved ERA (the holy grail) for plant protection products for soil and NTA’s can be found and developed.

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