Study suggests pesticides ‘crucial’ for EU food supply

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Overly stringent EU rules on pesticides will lead to a decline in European agricultural self-sufficiency resulting in ever-increasing food prices and job losses in the agri-food sector, warns a recent industry-funded study. The findings were immediately rejected by environmental activists, who derided the study as “professional scaremongering” by “lobbyists behaving like a posse of corporate cowboys.”

A recent industry-commissioned study argues that reduced availability of so-called plant protection products “could lead to a decline in overall European agricultural productivity” and will hamper the food industry’s ability to produce “safe, high-quality, affordable food for European consumers.” As a result, adds the study, Europe would see its already declining levels of self-sufficiency in primary agricultural materials worsen in future. 

Entitled ‘European Agriculture of the Future: The role of Plant Production Products’, the study was conducted by Italian research institute Nomisma on behalf of Syngenta and Bayer Crop Science, two members of the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA). It explores the impact of the revised EU pesticides regulation on the competitiveness of the European agri-food industry as well as the role of European agriculture in promoting biodiversity and sustainable rural development.

The study predicts that the proposed EU measures will have a serious impact on farming and consumers in the form of:

  • Drastic reductions in yields: Yields of wheat, potatoes, cereals and wine grapes could be reduced by 29%, 33%, 20% and 10% respectively by 2020;
  • higher prices and decreased availability of fresh fruits and vegetables with 30-40% of locally produced food at risk, and; 
  • increased EU food imports from countries with lower quality standards than Europe and where, eventually, the same pesticides will still be allowed.

Commenting on the study, Syngenta, a global leader in agri-business, said: "The impact assessment generated by the Commission, as well as numerous assessments by various stakeholders, focused on the direct impact of the Commission proposal on the use of pesticides on the environment and on operators and consumers. Many of the comments, however, indicated that the indirect impact could well be far greater than the direct influence."

According to Syngenta, "the challenge before us in the EU is to create a proportionate balance between hazard and risk in the assessment of plant protection products, which are essential tools for farmers to use in the sustainable production of high-quality food in Europe". "If we deny farmers these tools by failing to find such a balance, we run the risk of outsourcing our food supply beyond the EU's borders, where quality and sustainability standards may not be as stringent. This could result in unnecessarily high food prices for Europe's consumers and threaten jobs in the agri-food industry," the company warns.

Elliott Cannell, Europe co-ordinator at the Pesticides Action Network, an environmental group, derided the study as "professional scaremongering", saying European politicians were being bombarded with "bad science and misinformation".

"Industry lobbyists are behaving like a posse of corporate cowboys, spreading wild rumours about the consequences of tougher legislation. In reality the proposed Regulation would give increased support to European agriculture while reducing the risks posed by hazardous pesticides. Few pesticides, if any, will actually be banned," said Cannell. "The Nomisma report reads like a bad science fiction novel [...] where only toxic pesticides can save humanity. This bizarre fantasy funded by Bayer and Syngenta is ill-conceived and has no basis in reality. This report represents a misconceived attempt by the pesticides industry to put corporate profits ahead of public health," he added. 

The Italian research institute that conducted the study, Nomisma, said that the study "was independently conducted, based on various scientific references and studies coupled with more than 25 years of experience in the field of agriculture." The institute invites all interested parties to read the report and draw their own conclusions on the basis of the data and information presented in the study. The full report can be requested from Nomisma (www.nomisma.it) at agri-food@nomisma.it

In July 2006, the Commission proposed a new regulation to tighten pesticide usage and authorisation rules in Europe, as public concerns are growing over the health and environmental impact of so-called plant protection products. EU lawmakers are voting on the proposed regulation separately from a related EU strategy and draft framework directive on "the sustainable use of pesticides", which was voted upon by the Council in December last year (EURACTIV 19/12/07).

Whereas environmental and health NGOs have welcomed the initiative, farmers and pesticide producers fear the proposed stricter authorisation rules will remove harmless substances from the market and hamper their business with increased bureaucracy.

In its first reading on the package, in October 2007, the European Parliament voted to expand the scope of substances banned from use in EU pesticides production (EURACTIV 24/10/07).

  • 14 April 2008: Debate in EU Council of Ministers (Agriculture and Fisheries). 
  • 19 May 2008: Political agreement expected in Agriculture and Fisheries Council.

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