The European 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, according to a new report from the European Court of Auditors, released on Wednesday (5 January).
They also emphasised that support for integrated pest management (IPM) practices is sorely lacking, despite the fact that applying IPM principles is mandatory and an important part of the strategy to decrease farmers dependence on pesticides.
In the report, the ECA assessed whether EU action has reduced the risk related to pesticide use following the implementation of the 2009 directive on sustainable use of pesticides, designed to reduce the risks they pose for human health and the environment.
While the report acknowledged that actions have been taken at the EU level to promote the sustainable use of pesticides, it concluded that there has been limited progress in measuring and reducing the associated risks.
“The European Commission has been unable so far to substantially reduce and control risks associated to pesticides use by farmers”, said Samo Jereb, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report.
The auditors found that statistics on active substances and their usage published by Eurostat were not detailed enough to be useful, nor was the data provided by member states sufficiently harmonised or up-to-date.
The auditors’ highlight that risk indicators upon which assessments are based are unsuitable, given they do not take into account how, where and when products are used.
Auditors also criticised the ‘weighting factors’ of the indictors, saying they were chosen to increase the estimated risk reduction resulting from reduced sales of high-risk substances rather than on scientific rationale.
The report, therefore, concluded that the Commission still lacks a robust evidence base to assess whether the directive has achieved the EU’s objective of making pesticide use sustainable.
Furthermore, the auditors criticised the fact that there have been very few incentives for farmers to reduce their dependence on pesticides.
This includes the fact that several member states have been late in fully transposing the directive on sustainable use of pesticides, something that was found to have not been properly followed up by the Commission.
For example, not all member states transposed into national law the requirement for farmers to apply IPM practices. There was also found to be no clear criteria or specific requirements for IPM to help ensure enforcement and assess compliance.
In particular, the auditors recommended that the Commission should include integrated pest management (IPM) practices as a condition for receiving payments from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). However, this recommendation was subsequently rejected by the Commission.
Furthermore, although a category of ‘low-risk plant protection products’ was created by the Commission, only 16 out of 487 substances have been made available for use to date, which is insufficient, say the auditors.
Speaking at a recent Court of Auditors press briefing, Jereb emphasised that farmers currently “do not have proper alternatives” available to them and that more low-risk options must be on offer as more high-risk products are banned.
Commenting on the auditors report, Anika Gatt Seretny, senior communications manager at the European Crop Protection Association, told EURACTIV that their industry “has always been and will continue to be a strong advocate for Integrated pest management,” saying that they are “open to work on a science-based process for this and support finding indicators that will give an accurate representation of pesticide usage, benefits and risk”.
As the European Commission is currently in the process of evaluating the legislation in this policy area against a backdrop of increasing public and parliamentary concern, the auditors offered a number of recommendations based on the report.
These include verifying integrated pest management at the farm level, improving statistics on plant protection products and developing better risk indicators.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]