Controversial risk indicator to be basis for pesticide reduction targets

A recent EU Court of Auditors report concluded that "to assess progress made towards policy objectives, the Commission should improve the harmonised risk indicators (HRIs)." [SHUTTERSTOCK]

The latest draft of the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy (F2F), obtained by EURACTIV, specifies that mandatory targets for the reduction of use and risk of synthetic chemical pesticides will be established using the existing Harmonised Risk Indicator 1 (HRI1), whose suitability was contested in the past.

This indicator has come under scrutiny and been criticised as a flawed indicator on a number of counts. 

Although the leaked document does not specify the exact target, it currently reads that the Commission will “establish a mandatory target with a clear legal basis and using the existing HRI 1 established under the Sustainable Use Directive (SUD).”

However, there are questions as to whether this indicator is an appropriate basis upon which to establish these targets.

A recent EU Court of Auditors report concluded that “to assess progress made towards policy objectives, the Commission should improve the harmonised risk indicators (HRIs), or develop new ones that take into account agricultural areas, volumes of active substance and the way that these plant production products (PPPs) are used.”

The report added that the indicator “does not show how successful the directive has been in achieving the EU objective of sustainable use of PPPs.”

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HRIs are used to estimate the trends in risk from pesticide use. HRI 1 is calculated by multiplying the quantities of active substances placed on the market in plant protection products by a weighting factor.

For practical purposes, active substances are grouped into four categories, in line with Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009.

Weightings are then applied to each category which is designed to reflect policy on the use of pesticides and support the goal of the SUD but also to reduce the risk and impact of pesticide use for human and environmental health and promote alternative approaches or techniques.

A baseline of the average of three years 2011-2013 is used as the starting point against which subsequent values are compared.

HRI 1 showed a 20% reduction in the risk to human health and the environment from pesticides in the European Union in the period from 2011 to 2017.

In their report, the EU auditors conclude that the risk reduction is mainly due to “reduced sales of the substances in the category ‘not approved’.”

EU food policy director at Greenpeace, Franziska Achterberg, told EURACTIV that the HRI 1 was “obscure” and, as such, difficult to base an appropriate target on.

She added that that relatively favourable development of HRI 1 is “mainly the result of pesticide bans and withdrawals from companies, not the result of reductions in use,” pointing to the fact that the quantity of Group 2 and Group 3 pesticides has “not gone down,” and that the “only significant reduction has been in the quantity of non-approved substances.”

This confirms that the drop in HRI 1 is mainly based on a reduction in the sale of non-approved substances, as suggested by the Court of Auditors.

For this reason, she therefore said that, regarding the targets, it’s “no use conflating the targets for the reductions of use and of risk,” emphasising that there must be “a separate target for the quantities used, and it needs to drive a fast reduction.” 

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Géraldine Kutas, director general at the European Crop Protection Association, told EURACTIV that she “recognises societal concerns associated with pesticides and we acknowledge the Commission’s willingness to reduce both the risks and volumes used of our products.”

However, she encouraged the Commission “to use HRI 1, with a clear and established baseline, in order to meet the vision set out in the Farm 2 Fork Strategy.”

She also urged the Commission to consider conducting an impact assessment to develop an indicator that “measures impact on EU farmers’ agricultural productivity and competitiveness if farmers are left with no viable alternative solutions to protect their crops from pests and diseases.”

Henriette Christensen, a senior policy advisor at Pesticide Action Network Europe, said they “highly welcome that the European Commission recognises the need to establish mandatory targets for both the risk and use of pesticides” but are “deeply concerned that the Commission keeps on making reference to the HRI 1 established under the SUD.” 

According to her, pesticide use is one of the agro-environmental indicators that should have been developed ages ago. “It is time that the European Commission convinces member states to deliver both crop and country-specific indicators,” she added.

Eric Gall, deputy director and policy manager at organic association IFOAM, said that “although the two HRIs are up for improvement, they are the first step in increasing transparency and further developing the documentation of pesticide use.”

“Now, the Commission should prioritise developing quantitative use reduction targets,” he concluded.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Gerardo Fortuna]

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