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European Commission proposes rules to cut EU pesticide use by 50%

30 June 2022 Pieter Devuyst
  • The European Commission proposed new EU rules to halve the use and risk of chemical pesticides by 2030
  • The legislation aims to make this sustainability ambition of the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F) legally binding
  • The rules were planned to be released in March, but this was delayed due to the war in Ukraine
  • EU farming groups criticised the proposal for failing to ensure sufficient alternatives

The European Commission has proposed new EU rules that would make the Farm to Fork strategy target of halving the use and risk of chemical pesticides by 2030 legally binding.

On 22 June, the EU executive launched its proposal for a new Sustainable Use of Plant Protection Products Regulation, which aims to turn one of the four F2F targets into legislation for the first time.

The draft rules set out to cut the use and risk of chemical pesticides by 50% by 2030 across the EU, while member states should set their own national reduction targets to achieve this overall goal. The national targets cannot be set lower than 35% for both the use and risk of pesticides, but the Commission said it will consider member states' historic progress and current pesticide use when setting these goals. "We are not proposing a one-size-fits all approach," Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said.

The EU executive originally wanted to make the 50% target legally binding at the national level as well, but this was changed following pressure from several EU farming ministers who warned that the new EU pesticide rules should incorporate their specific national situations and earlier progress made .

The proposal will also transform the current EU Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive (2009/128) into a Regulation, which means the rules will be directly binding in all member states without the need to transpose it into national laws first. The Commission hopes this can tackle the persistent problems with weak and uneven implementation of these pesticide rules over the past years. Member states will also have to submit reports to the Commission on their annual progress in achieving the targets, as well as implementation reports, which should improve the EU executive's oversight.

The proposed rules would ban the use of pesticides within three metres of ecologically sensitive areas, which is in line with the Good Agricultural and Environmental Practices of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for 2023-27. The Commission said member states will also be able to use the next CAP to compensate their farmers for any costs of implementing the regulation during the first five years. "This should prevent any increases in food prices arising from new obligations set out in this proposal," it said. The European Parliament and the Council of ministers now need to adopt their positions on the proposal.

Delayed due to Ukraine war

The Commission had originally planned to release the new pesticide rules in March this year, but the proposal was postponed to June due to pushback from other EU policymakers following the war in Ukraine. This delay was sharply criticised by environmental groups, who feared that concerns over food security due to the war in Ukraine could permanently derail the F2F's sustainability ambitions.

At a press conference following the launch of the proposal, Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said "these [food security] concerns are valid, but they do not make action on pesticides any less urgent". She added that the EU needs to "change course on pesticides" to protect the environment and the health of EU citizens.

Meanwhile, Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans repeated his criticism that some organisations and policymakers are abusing the conflict in Ukraine as an excuse to halt the EU's sustainability ambitions. "Using the war to water down our proposals and scare Europeans is, frankly, quite irresponsible," he said. Timmermans argued that climate change and biodiversity decline are "the real threat to food security" and this why the EU needs to take action on pesticides.

Kyriakides stressed that their proposal does not aim to ban pesticides, but rather to replace them with safer and more sustainable alternatives. "This is making pesticides a last resort measure," she said. The food safety chief pledged to increase the range of biological and low-risk alternatives on the market through continued research and innovation and said the Commission already approved 20 new low-risk alternatives since 2019. "This work will now continue and accelerate," Kyriakides stated.

Stakeholders decry lack of alternatives

Copa-Cogeca, the EU's main farming association, sharply criticised the proposal for setting ambitious mandatory pesticide reduction targets while providing "limited answers on the ways to achieve them". The farming group said the draft legislation is "not realistic" because farmers lack sufficient alternatives to chemicals for protecting their plants and warned that this could reduce the EU's food production.

Similarly, the EU's association of young farmers CEJA raised concerns about the impact of the proposal on farmers and the lack of alternatives. "At a time of increasing climate pressure and of new emerging pests, plant protection is a necessity on the farm, not an option," CEJA President Diana Lenzi said.

CropLife Europe, the EU association of the plant protection product industry, also said that the proposed pesticide reduction targets can only be achieved if there are viable and effective alternatives on the market. "If we truly want to transform the system, we cannot set arbitrary targets at the EU and national level that end up alienating the very people that are producing healthy and sustainable food every day for European citizens and beyond," CropLife Europe's Director General Olivier de Matos said.

The conservation group Birdlife Europe described the proposal as an optimistic start, but far from perfect . "There are still too many derogations and loopholes, rendering the law potentially useless in how much pesticides will be used across Europe," Birdlife's agricultural policy officer Marilda Dhaskali said. The NGO also called on the Commission to use "proper indicators" to track how pesticides are reduced on farms, which echoed similar calls made by other civil society groups earlier this month.

Posted 30 June 2022 by Pieter Devuyst, News Analyst, S&P Global Commodity Insights



This article was published by S&P Global Commodity Insights and not by S&P Global Ratings, which is a separately managed division of S&P Global.

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