The long-awaited EU Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy published on Wednesday (20 May) unveiled a highly anticipated 50% target for the reduction of pesticide use and risk.
After months of speculation, the Commission will take action to reduce the overall use and risk of all chemical pesticides by 50%, as well as the use and risk of high-risk pesticides by 50%, by 2030.
To obtain these reductions, the strategy pledges to revise the sustainable use of pesticides directive, enhance provisions on integrated pest management and promote greater use of safe alternative ways to protect harvests from pests and diseases.
These are “ambitious targets to significantly reduce the pesticides by 2030,” and are intended to “reduce the use and risk for people, including our farmers, and the environment”, said EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner, Stella Kyriakides.
The strategy states that agricultural practices that reduce the use of pesticides through the CAP will be of “paramount importance” and that member states’ strategic plans should reflect this transition and promote access to advice.
However, questions have arisen as to the suitability of the way in which these mandatory targets were drawn up.
In January this year, the European Court of Auditors released a report which concluded that the Commission has been unable to adequately measure and reduce either the effects or the risks from pesticides due to a lack of rigorous and suitable data, highlighting that the risk indicators upon which assessments are based are unsuitable.
“We are all aware that we need to improve the data and the knowledge on the extent in the use of pesticides in the EU,” Kyriakides conceded, acknowledging that this is a “concern.”
She added that this is why the Commission will be “proposing changes to the 2009 legislation concerning statistics on pesticides to overcome the data gaps,” and asking member states to cooperate so that the process can be as transparent as possible at the national level.
Martin Dermine, environment policy officer at Pesticide Action Network Europe, welcomed the proposals, saying that the fact that “the EU Commission as a whole acknowledges the necessity to profoundly reform agriculture is a revolution in itself.”
“Synthetic pesticides are major contributors to the decline of biodiversity; this shift by the European executive must now be followed by actions with strict enforcement,” he said, adding that the 50% is a “progressive objective” although more ambition will be needed to restore biodiversity.
However, Géraldine Kutas, director-general of the European Crop Protection Agency, told EURACTIV that she would “welcome realistic targets reflecting the results of an impact assessment.”
“A reduction rate of 50% by 2030 is not realistic and will not have the desired effect of having a more sustainable food production model in Europe,” she said.
“Let’s be clear – we are not against targets. The objectives presented today should be taking the farming industry on a journey to transform, not without sacrifices, but in collaboration with all parties involved in producing our food.”
Kutas added that the industry continuously invests in new technologies, be it biopesticides or ever greener profile of pesticides, which allows farmers to produce better while using fewer natural resources.
Indeed, as part of its strategy to support alternatives to pesticides, the Commission said it will facilitate the placing on the market of plant protection products containing biological active substances, saying it will “act to curb delays in the authorisation process.”
This news was warmly welcomed by Jennifer Lewis, executive director of the biocontrol manufacturers association representing the biologicals sector, who stressed that biology must be “put at the heart of the EU Farm to Fork, so farmers and the rural economy can thrive,” adding that “EU regulation must be fit for purpose for biologicals.”
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]