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14th Aug 2020

Green Deal

EU wants to halve use of pesticides by 2030

  • A third of food consumed in the EU in 2018 contained residues of two or more pesticides, including illegal products, according to the European Food Safety Authority (Photo: jetsandzeppelins)

The European Commission wants to reduce the use of chemical pesticides in the EU by 50 percent over the next decade, in a benchmark established by the new Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategy on Wednesday (20 May).

However, the definitive target will be subjected to the results of a risk assessment that the commission plans to put forward before 2022 - when the existing rules on the sustainable use of pesticides will need to be updated.

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Chemical pesticides are used for the protection of plants and crops, but they are also potentially toxic to humans, bees and other pollinators.

In 2018, a third of the food consumed in the EU contained residues of two or more pesticides, including illegal pesticides that are not approved to be used in the EU, according to the European Food Safety Authority.

This is why over 80 NGOs and over 300,000 citizens have called repeatedly on the commission for a much higher 80 percent reduction target of chemical pesticides, and to achieve their full phase-out by 2035.

However, even the reduction target proposed by the commission is not "realistic" according to the industry.

"A reduction rate of 50 percent by 2030 is not realistic and will not have the desired effect of having a more sustainable food production model in Europe," said the director-general of the European Crop Protection Association, Géraldine Kutas.

"Thanks to advances in crop protection products, on average, there has been a 97 percent reduction [in the use of these products] compared to what was required in the 1960s," she added.

Meanwhile, MEPs from the European Conservatives and Reformists and the European People's Party groups have previously asked the commission to postpone the strategy until the Covid-19 crisis is over.

Liberal MEP Pascal Canfin, who chairs the European Parliament environment committee, welcomed the commission's proposal and committed to making it mandatory in the ongoing reform of the Common Agriculture Policy.

However, Canfin bemoaned the lack of reaction to parliament's requests to reduce the market presence of "bee-killing pesticides which have been suffering a hecatomb [huge sacrifice] for several decades in Europe".

Bee-killing pesticides

The number of bee colonies has declined by more than 50 percent in some member states.

This is why the biodiversity strategy states that at least 10 percent of the utilised agricultural area should be reserved for wild animals, plants, pollinators and natural pest regulators.

Studies from across Europe show that if a minimum of 10-14 percent of agricultural land is left to nature, then pollinators would recover.

Besides pathogens and parasites, one of the biggest threats to honeybees is the common exposure to pesticides used in agriculture.

Earlier this year, the European Court of Auditors concluded that the commission has not been able to accurately monitor the risk of pesticides due to the lack of detailed, harmonised and updated data among member states.

Similarly, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) denounced that there is no conclusive data about the precise amount of pesticides used in the EU's agricultural sector.

The EU's executive body aims to revise the pesticides statistics regulation to overcome such data gaps in 2023.

Fertilisers

Additionally, the Farm to Fork strategy aims to reduce the excess of nutrients - especially nitrogen and phosphorus - in the environment, by reducing at least 20 percent of the use of fertilisers by 2030.

The commission, together with member states, will put forward an 'integrated nutrient management action plan' to address nutrient pollution - with extra measures, if necessary.

However, some NGOs slammed the commission's strategy as 'half-baked'.

"The Farm to Fork Strategy leaves the door open for weakening GMO [genetically modified organism] safety laws, remains dangerously weak on pesticides and industrial animal agriculture," said Mute Schimpf from NGO Friends of the Earth Europe.

"Agribusiness executives will sleep well tonight," she added.

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