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2nd Jul 2022

Ten states push back on EU pesticide law, citing food crisis

  • The European Commission is considering a ban on the use of pesticides in areas such as parks, playgrounds, or nature protected sites (Photo: jetsandzeppelins)
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Ten countries have joined forces to water down the ambition of a flagship EU environmental policy on pesticides, according to an internal document dated 8 June and seen by EUobserver.

Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia want a list of exceptions — which would excuse a country if it does not meet the pesticide-reduction target included in the upcoming law.

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EU agriculture ministers are expected to discuss the proposal in Luxembourg on Monday (13 June).

With war raging in Ukraine, concerns over food security have been on the rise — rolling back EU climate policies.

New EU rules on the sustainable use of pesticides, a key initiative of the EU's Farm to Fork strategy, were postponed in mid-March after what campaigners say has been an intensive campaign by pro-pesticide farming lobbies.

They are now due to be published on 22 June, although environmental groups are afraid of a new delay — and have been calling on the commission to stick to the timeline.

The proposal would set an EU-wide legally binding 50 percent pesticide-reduction target by 2030.

But the group of central and eastern European states has raised concerns over the impact of such policies on the food crisis that is currently unfolding as a result of the Russian blockade of Ukraine's grain exports.

"Food security and the competitiveness of the EU agricultural production have been facing many challenges … [which] have been further exacerbated by Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine," their joint statement said.

In such context, they say, it is crucial to provide "stability" and "proportional measures" to European farmers and consumers.

The so-called 'non-paper' includes a list of exceptions that would excuse member states for their continued or increased use of pesticides.

They said countries should be allowed to change the course of action if "the member state foresees that it will not achieve national 2030 reduction target due to unpredictable reasons" such as new pests, the occurrence of invasive species or structural changes in agriculture".

Meanwhile, a recent report has contradicted official claims that the use of toxic pesticides is declining in the EU, showing how more and more fruits and vegetables contain traces of these chemicals.

EU auditors, for their part, raised doubts about the system used to measure progress toward pesticide-reduction targets in 2020. Risk indicators have been also a source of concern to campaigners and the organic community.

Overall, sales of pesticides in the EU have remained stable since 2011 and the uptake of non-chemical pesticides is relatively low, according to data provided by Eurostat.

Guaranteeing food security

"Doing nothing is clearly not an option," EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides told MEPs last week.

The upcoming proposal will include binding targets although there will be different national targets, she said. "This is necessary to move forward … [but] all member states will have to make an effort."

Nevertheless, the group of 10 member states has noted that the 50-percent pesticide-reduction target will apply to the EU as a whole.

"Setting the obligation to act instead of the obligation to reach the target will secure better implementation of the legislation," they also said in the non-paper.

They argue that the contribution of individual countries to achieving these targets should take into account the intensity of pesticide use in each member state and "the need for plant protection in order to maintain a sufficient level of agricultural production, guaranteeing food security."

In March, a larger group of countries warned that the reduction targets adopted in the new law should not lead to "a reduction in agricultural production" that could cause food shortages in the EU.

Kyriakides has argued that data shows that it is possible "to reduce the use of pesticides without compromising food security," pointing out that the current crisis should help strengthen the resilience of food systems.

Under the upcoming legislation, a ban on the use of pesticides in areas such as parks, playgrounds, or nature protection sites is also being considered, the health commissioner said.

Interview

'Without pesticide reduction, we'll have a food crisis in Europe'

Despite tough lobbying, the EU commission is set to present this week the first binding EU law mandating farmers to reduce their use of chemicals. Long-term food security must not be sacrificed for short-term gains, says EU commissioner Frans Timmermans.

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