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Hopes of overturning a European Union (EU) pesticides ban that scientists believe could hamper malaria control in developing countries have been dashed.

The United Kingdom said last week that it had failed to get support from other EU countries for an assessment of the impact of removing a range of pesticides from use.

More than 160 leading public health scientists signed a petition against the ban before the European Parliament voted in favour of restrictions on the pesticides in January, by 557 votes to 61. Should the 27 governments of the EU states ratify the decision at an agriculture ministers' meeting expected to take place in May or June this year, the ban would come into effect from 2014.

The ban prohibits the use in EU countries of agricultural pesticides believed to cause cancer, reproductive and mutative problems in humans or threaten wildlife.

But the decision has been widely criticised for its lack of consultation and scientific process, and has raised concerns that public health initiatives such as malaria control could be hindered.

"The proposed new regulations set a dangerous precedent for the regulation of chemicals around the world and show a worrying lack of concern for the real risks to health and development to which most people in developing countries are exposed," says the petition.

Critics worry that the legislation will limit the supplies of chemicals for public health programmes in developing countries because a substantial part of the market would be removed.

"As public health insecticides comprise little more than one per cent of the total market for pesticides, it is highly unlikely that their production would continue if a product were banned for agriculture," says Jasson Urbach, director of Africa Fighting Malaria based in South Africa.

Caroline Boin of the UK's Campaign for Fighting Diseases (CFD) says that since the introduction of DDT (Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane) in the Second World War, no new insecticide has been developed purely for disease control.

Those in favour of the new regulations argue that there is sufficient time to develop safer alternative pesticides, but Urbach is pessimistic — estimates put the cost of bringing a new pesticide to market at US$400 million.

The UK's efforts to persuade the European Commission to conduct an impact assessment grew from its concerns that the regulations could dramatically reduce crop yields in the UK.

In a letter to the UK's Crop Protection Association, Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: "I hope that companies will develop alternative substances which satisfy the hazard criteria but I recognise the scale of the challenge..."