Europe Reconsiders Pesticide Ban as Global Food Crisis Looms

The Commission had proposed an ambitious plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020. Nearly half of E.U. member states oppose the move.

Spraying grapevines in France
By Paolo DeAndreis
Jul. 25, 2022 13:32 UTC
Spraying grapevines in France

Agriculture min­is­ters have warned that sig­nif­i­cantly reduc­ing pes­ti­cide use in the European Union could affect crop yields dur­ing a highly uncer­tain time.

An ambi­tious goal pro­posed by the European Commission to cut pes­ti­cide use in half by 2030 has been crit­i­cized by mem­ber states at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council (Agrifish), which recently took place in Brussels.

Controlling a dis­ease with­out syn­thetic mol­e­cules might be chal­leng­ing, but it is nec­es­sary.- Gennaro Sicolo, pres­i­dent, Italia Olivicola

At the meet­ing, min­is­ters empha­sized the need for viable sus­tain­able alter­na­tives to chem­i­cal pes­ti­cides before set­ting oblig­a­tory reduc­tion tar­gets.”

They added that the new reg­u­la­tions should also con­sider the dif­fer­ences in geog­ra­phy, cli­mate and start­ing points in dif­fer­ent mem­ber states” before impos­ing restric­tions.

See Also:Researchers Reintroduce Bats to Andalusian Olive Groves to Combat Pests

They fur­ther stressed that sus­tain­abil­ity should not be sought at the expense of food secu­rity or of the com­pet­i­tive­ness of E.U. agri­cul­ture, espe­cially in the cur­rent con­text of the Russian aggres­sion against Ukraine.”

The emerg­ing divi­sions among the 27 agri­cul­tural min­is­ters will likely have a sig­nif­i­cant impact on new reg­u­la­tion being worked on by the European Commission. The goal of the reg­u­la­tion is to reduce the use of chem­i­cals in agri­cul­ture.

The pro­posed reg­u­la­tion asks gov­ern­ments to set national reduc­tion tar­gets and enforce envi­ron­men­tally friendly pest con­trol through inte­grated pest man­age­ment prac­tices with pes­ti­cides used as a mea­sure of last resort.

The rules also stip­u­late a com­plete ban of pes­ti­cide use in parks, play­grounds, schools and eco­log­i­cally-sen­si­tive areas.

Finally, the pro­posed rules allow gov­ern­ments to use funds from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to cover farm­ers’ costs as they tran­si­tion to other forms of pest con­trol.

The strongest oppo­si­tion to the pro­posed reg­u­la­tions came from Spain, Portugal, Malta, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria and Hungary.

Spain’s agri­cul­ture min­is­ter warned that pro­hibit­ing pes­ti­cides in eco­log­i­cally-sen­si­tive areas could allow them to become breed­ing grounds for pests. Slovenia’s min­is­ter added that farm­ers in these areas would have a sig­nif­i­cant dis­ad­van­tage due to the pro­hi­bi­tions.

However, Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, defended the pro­posal and said long-term food secu­rity and resilience require a change of course regard­ing the use of pes­ti­cides.

We are not ban­ning pes­ti­cide use,” she said. The range of bio­log­i­cal and low-risk alter­na­tives is pro­gres­sively increas­ing on the mar­ket, with more approvals and more stream­lined rules, to help the farm­ers’ tran­si­tion.”

Continued use of research, inno­va­tion and new tech­nolo­gies will sup­port the tran­si­tion, too,” she added. Russia’s inva­sion of Ukraine means we must adapt to new real­i­ties. But we can­not let that dis­rupt our sus­tain­abil­ity drive.”

Further slash­ing pes­ti­cide use will also affect olive grow­ers, many of whom opposed the October 2021 ban on the use of dimethoate.

The chem­i­cal is widely con­sid­ered to be the only effi­cient line of defense against the olive fruit fly in olive groves. Some farm­ers had lamented that the ban was imple­mented in the absence of viable alter­na­tive insect-con­trol strate­gies.


Over the years, syn­thetic active sub­stances have nur­tured an approach to plant pro­tec­tion more focused on the treat­ment of pathol­ogy and less on pre­ven­tion, due to the avail­abil­ity on the mar­ket of pes­ti­cides such as dimethoate,” Gennaro Sicolo, the pres­i­dent of Italia Olivicola, a pro­ducer asso­ci­a­tion, told Olive Oil Times.

Controlling a dis­ease with­out syn­thetic mol­e­cules might be chal­leng­ing, but it is nec­es­sary,” he added. The whole pro­duc­tion process must take place while con­sid­er­ing the pro­tec­tion of the envi­ron­ment and its nat­ural resources.”

Sicolo argues that olive grow­ers should take a more pre­ven­tive approach to the spread of pests.

That can trig­ger a vir­tu­ous cir­cle where the well­be­ing of the plant is at its cen­ter, in har­mony with the soil and the whole envi­ron­ment that it inhab­its,” he said. We need to rebuild our [pest] con­trol strate­gies.”

See Also:Researchers Identify Compounds to Stem the Spread of Verticillium Wilt

The 2021 annual report from the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) con­firmed that pes­ti­cide use in olive pro­duc­tion is quite low in Europe.

The major­ity of sam­ples – 96 per­cent of 100,000 – ana­lyzed by EFSA showed the pres­ence of chem­i­cals was well below the legal limit. Moreover, 57 per­cent of all sam­ples did not con­tain quan­tifi­able residue lev­els.

An organic approach to farm­ing unfor­tu­nately does not only depend on olive farm­ers,” Sicolo said. A broader approach may and has to come from other areas where syn­thetic prod­ucts are widely used. Olive farm­ing can do its part even in the face of ris­ing costs.”

According to the European Federation of Food, Agriculture, Tourism and Trade (EFFAT), the pro­posed reg­u­la­tion is a step for­ward but does not take into account spe­cific impacts of pes­ti­cide use, such as those on work­ers’ health.

The pes­ti­cide peril in Europe is real,” said Kristjan Bragason, EFFAT’s gen­eral sec­re­tary. Exposure to pes­ti­cides and agro­chem­i­cals con­sti­tutes one of the major risks faced by farm work­ers, although still largely under­es­ti­mated. Protecting work­ers’ health and safety means striv­ing for truly sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture.”

Natalija Svrtan, a cam­paigner for Pesticide-Free Agriculture, told Olive Oil Times that revers­ing 80 years’ worth of dam­age caused by pes­ti­cides to soil, bio­di­ver­sity and human health would be a lengthy process.

We can­not fix the prob­lem overnight, by apply­ing one sim­ple solu­tion,” she said. Substantial changes must be done to our food-pro­duc­ing sys­tems, and that needs to be done with­out any delay.”

Biodiversity and healthy soils are the base input we need for the pro­duc­tion of any type of food, and agro-ecol­ogy is the solu­tion to pre­serv­ing it,” Svrtan added. This is shown by stud­ies as well as by the ris­ing num­ber of organic pro­duc­ers, who suc­cess­fully apply inte­grated pest man­age­ment.”

According to Svrtan, inte­grated pest man­age­ment includes sev­eral tech­niques such as inter­crop­ping, sub-sow­ing, multi-crop­ping, crop rota­tion, leav­ing fields fal­low and con­stantly mon­i­tor­ing the appear­ance of pests.

When pre­ven­tion meth­ods alone are not suf­fi­cient, pref­er­ence is given to non-chem­i­cal alter­na­tives, such as bio­log­i­cal con­trol of harm­ful insects, phys­i­cal trap­ping and mechan­i­cal weed­ing,” she said.

Svrtan added that pre­vi­ous farm­ing prac­tices must be replaced with new ones to restore nat­ural bal­ance to human-sculpted land­scapes.

Many old olive trees were replaced with new cul­ti­vars that are prone to dis­eases and pest attacks,” she said. Any inter­fer­ence in the nat­ural order, in nat­ural processes, will lead to cre­at­ing more prob­lems than it solves.”

We need to be wise and live in har­mony with nature, instead of fight­ing it, like we are doing now, by using pes­ti­cides and min­eral fer­til­iz­ers,” Svrtan added. Even with new cul­ti­vars, tech­niques like pest mon­i­tor­ing, pest traps, mechan­i­cal meth­ods of weed­ing and the use of repel­lents can at least decrease the use of pes­ti­cides and fer­til­iz­ers.”

The E.U. Agrifish Council ended with a doc­u­ment signed by 12 mem­ber states which asked the E.U. to pro­mote sus­tain­abil­ity and a new approach to pes­ti­cides at a global level.

Should such a global tran­si­tion to sus­tain­abil­ity fail, the doc­u­ment states, the Green Deal deploy­ment and its strate­gies could pro­voke envi­ron­men­tal loss and a drop in European agri­cul­ture yields.”

The new rules on pes­ti­cides will have to be approved both by the European Council and the European Parliament to come into force.

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