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4th Feb 2023

EU 'must tax pesticides' to cut use, expert warns

  • The European Commission put forward new rules making the 50-percent pesticide-reduction target legally-binding (Photo: Aqua Mechanical)
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European agriculture is stuck in a "permanent pesticide-dependence," and EU policies have major flaws to deliver a much-needed reduction of pesticides, a recent report by consumer rights nonprofit Foodwatch found.

Lars Neumeister, the author of the report and who has been working on pesticide issues since 1998, warned that the new rules to reduce the risk and use of pesticides in the EU will not deliver.

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  • Lars Neumeister has been working on pesticide issues since 1998 (Photo: Essen ohne Chemie)

"There is not a single thing in that regulation that will ensure pesticide reduction," he told EUobserver in an interview.

The European Commission unveiled new rules to reduce the use of pesticides in the EU in mid-June.

The legislative proposal, which still needs to be backed by EU member states and MEPs, makes legally binding the 50-percent-pesticide-reduction target first mentioned in the Farm to Fork strategy.

But Neumeister says the commission has created hope this legislation could become a game-changer — when in fact it is based on "weak" rules and standards.

The Harmonised Risk Indicator 1 (HRI-1) was adopted by EU member states in 2019, but EU auditors already raised doubts about their efficiency to measure progress toward pesticide-reduction targets in 2020 — a subject that has been also a source of concern to campaigners and the organic community for years.

Neumeister said that these indicators are industry-driven and a new form of "greenwashing".

"It is outrageous that it took up to 10 years to come up with something that basically betrays the citizens," he said.

All previous attempts to reduce pesticide use in Europe have failed, except in Denmark, where the government has managed to reduce the use of plant protection products in recent years thanks to policy instruments such as its pesticide tax.

"We need a pesticide tax," Neumeister also said, arguing that commission officials have done "everything possible to avoid action in this new legislation".

"If there is a political decision on pesticide use, then you should look at the instruments that have proven to be working, not those which have proven not to be working," he insisted.

The Foodwatch report says more funds would be available for farmers if the pesticide levy/tax was implemented — and, at the same time, a sufficiently high carbon price (either via taxation or emission trade) is set for imported feedstock or fertiliser.

In Denmark, the existing pesticide tax is based on the toxicity and environmental behaviour of the product.

After their tax reform in 2013, more hazardous pesticides became more expensive, encouraging farmers to substitute them for less-toxic pesticides. But this new approach has shown no negative consequences for Danish agricultural productivity.

"Higher pesticide prices do not automatically lead to higher production costs, because there is a rather high percentage of unnecessary pesticide use," reads the report.

In many arable crops, a 40-percent reduction in pesticide use is sufficient to avoid negative effects on revenue, said Neumeister.

Between 2011 and 2020, around 350,000 tonnes of pesticides were sold in the EU annually, according to Eurostat figures.

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