4th Dec 2023

MEPs vote to cut pesticide use, but glyphosate renewal prevails

  • Technical debates on the proposal were intense in the European Parliament, resulting in nearly 3,000 amendments (Photo: James Baltz/Unsplash)
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MEPs in the environment committee on Tuesday (24 October) voted in favour of setting binding targets to reduce pesticide use in EU member states.

"It is very positive that we were able to agree on feasible compromises in an ideologically-charged and industry-dominated discussion," said Austrian Green MEP Sarah Wiener, who has been leading the parliament work on this file.

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The narrowly-approved text aims to achieve a 50-percent reduction in the use and risk of EU chemical pesticide by 2030. The use of the most hazardous pesticides will have to drop by 65 percent.

The reductions would be based on the average usage for 2013 to 2017, instead of for 2015-2017, as the commission first proposed.

With the adoption of the Sustainable Use of Pesticide Regulation (SUR) proposal, EU member states will have to include mandatory targets in national laws to reach the collective objective.

However, the European Commission will have to assess whether national targets are ambitious enough to achieve the 2030 targets.

MEPs have also called on the commission to increase the sales of low-risk pesticides and biocontrol by, for example, accelerating their authorisation process.

The committee also agreed on a ban on the use of pesticides in sensitive areas, such as public parks, playgrounds, schools, sports grounds, public paths and Natura 2000 protection sites.

But EU member states can make exceptions for organic farming and biological control if needed.

The text was adopted with 47 votes to 37 and 2 abstentions, mainly with rejection from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) plus the far-right.

The technical debates have been intense in the European Parliament, resulting in nearly 3,000 amendments.

The EPP, which initially sought a full rejection of the SUR proposal, has criticised making the reduction target compulsory and the ban on the use of pesticides in sensitive areas.

EPP chief negotiator Alexander Bernhuber also slammed the proposal for increasing bureaucracy for farmers. "Farmers must be allowed to do their work in fields instead of filling in forms and stockpiling paperwork," he said. 

'Artificial reductions'

While the commission has acknowledged that previous initiatives have been too weak to reduce the use of pesticides, the methodology used to measure such reductions has been a source of concern to campaigners and the organic community for years.

But concerns regarding so-called "Harmonised Risk Indicator" have not been addressed by the committee.

"We regret that a coalition of demagogic MEPs prevented reaching a compromise to fix the SUR proposal with a reliable indicator that does not lead to artificial reduction," said Eduardo Cuoco, head of Ifoam Organics Europe, an EU organic sector association.

EU auditors already raised doubts about the system used to measure progress toward pesticide-reduction targets in 2020, but the German Environment Agency has also criticised it.

The proposal adopted by the committee is expected to be voted by the whole parliament, during the plenary in November.

Council stalls

Meanwhile, discussions in the EU Council over the SUR proposal have been moving slowly due to opposition to national reduction targets and bans on pesticides in sensitive areas.

The EU member states have been previously accused of delaying negotiations by requesting an additional impact assessment on the regulation's effects on food security, which was presented by the commission.

And it is unclear whether Spain, who currently holds the EU presidency, aims to achieve an agreement by the end of the year.

Denmark, for example, has managed to reduce the use of plant protection products in recent years thanks to its pesticide tax.

The Scandinavian country is part of the group of EU countries that use fewer pesticides to protect crops — together with Romania, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Lithuania.

By contrast, the biggest amount of pesticide use per hectare of cropland is in the Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, France and Greece, according to Eurostat figures.

Germany, Spain, France and Italy are by far the biggest buyers of pesticides in the EU.

Pesticides have become a concern for lawmakers, given their role in the significant and unprecedented decline of bee and pollinator populations in recent years.

Glyphosate re-authorisation survives

Also on Tuesday, MEPs in the environment committee voted down a non-binding rejection of the commission proposal for the reapproval of the market license of the herbicide glyphosate for the next 10 years.

"Instead of protecting biodiversity against the nature killer glyphosate, Bayer's corporate interests were put ahead of the health of millions of Europeans and nature," said German Green MEP Jutta Paulus.

EU member states failed to reach a qualified majority in favour of the commission's proposal to extend the use of glyphosate until 2034 earlier this month. A new vote is expected in mid-November.

Should there be a lack of a clear majority either in favour of or against, the commission can reauthorise glyphosate without the consent of the member states.

The approved use of glyphosate in the bloc is set to expire in mid-December.

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

The European Commission put forward a new proposal to reduce pesticides in mid-June. But experts warn that it is based on weak rules, and that European agriculture is stuck in a "permanent pesticide-dependence."


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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.


Farmers speak out at 'industry capture' of centre-right MEPs

Ahead of the European elections next year, the European People's Party are pitching themselves as the 'farmers' representatives' in Brussels. But they are making misleading claims when they oppose nature-friendly laws in the name of farmers, say critics.


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