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Interview : Charlotte Grastilleur, Managing Director General of the Regulated Products Division

Charlotte Grastilleur,  Directrice générale déléguée chargée du pôle « Produits réglementés »

Our actions are in line with the overall strategy of rational and minimal use of chemicals.

What are the challenges surrounding the assessment of plant protection products?

We have to assess both their safety and effective - ness according to regulatory criteria that deter - mine whether they can be placed on the market. Similar processes apply to other regulated pro - ducts assessed by ANSES (biocides, fertilisers and veterinary medicinal products). The challenges we face are complex and varied, because we have to meet the needs of insect and disease control – or weed control for crops – while protecting public health and the environment. This assessment work is in line with European legislation, but also takes account of additional French requi - rements relating, for example, to the protection of bees or the expected assessment of buffer zones for protecting local residents. Our actions are in line with the overall strategy of rational and minimal use of chemicals. We assess risks to residents and to the workers applying the products, transfer to soil and water, residues in food and effects associated with ecotoxicity (more specifically, on birds, aquatic organisms, mammals, bees and non-target plants). To find out more about this process, I encourage you to read our specific 2022 report on this activity. As an expert appraisal agency specialising in health, we also harness our scientific skills and expert committees to help develop assessment methods at European level, in order to better identify and prevent risks and also adapt assess - ments to practices, for example to new product application techniques. On this last point, changes are being planned on the initiative of the European Food Safety Authority.

More generally, what areas require particular vigilance and attention?

We are keenly aware of what is at stake when as - sessing the dossiers submitted to us. Depending on whether it is favourable or unfavourable, an assessment will lead us to grant, renew, restrict or refuse marketing authorisation (MA). For the final authorisation or refusal decisions, the key aim is to ensure that the products placed on the market are safe and effective, in line with the findings of the assessment. The assessment findings and the resulting decision are published together on the Agency’s website. To support the National Biocontrol Strategy, a prioritisation system has been introduced to mi - nimise the time taken to process applications for these products. These accounted for 59% of the main applications for authorisation of plant pro - tection products in 2022 (i.e. 101 applications), compared with just 17% in 2018. How do you ensure independent scientific assessment? Scientific assessment prior to decision-making is carried out in accordance with the expert appraisal processes and ethical rules that apply to all the Agency’s expert appraisal activities, with the findings validated by independent, multi-disciplinary groups of experts. These ex - perts, like the Agency’s scientists, are required to complete public declarations of interests and keep them up to date. The assessment phase is carried out by a separate ANSES department from the one responsible for the administrative examination of dossiers and decisions.

How does the Agency stand with regard to the agro-ecological transition?

The use of plant protection products raises economic, political and societal questions of which we are fully aware, but that go well beyond the scope of our missions. We strive to cultivate dialogue in order to listen to expectations and reiterate our role. Numerous associations, companies and technical institutes take part in ANSES’s platform for dialogue on plant protec - tion products. Our actions are in line with the overall strategy of rational and minimal use of chemicals. While the number of active substances available is falling, mainly as a result of safety requirements, uses are being concentrated on a smaller number of substances due to the lack of alternatives, and this is fostering the emergence of resistance to treatment in pathogens, insect pests and weeds, as well as an increase in certain residues or meta - bolites in the environment. We are working with INRAE and various technical institutes to iden - tify alternatives to certain products and assess their viability. We are also conducting work to document contamination, most recently in soil, as well as studies on population exposure and its sources. These include the PestiRiv study with Santé Pu - blique France, and Géocap-Agri with Inserm, as part of our phytopharmacovigilance (PPV) sche - me. This scheme gathers and analyses reports of adverse effects and also enables large-scale studies to be financed. It is important to reco - gnise that the PPV scheme’s findings actually lead us to review MAs, for example by tightening the conditions of use. Marketing authorisations are reviewed when new risk factors are identified during the life of a product.