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Daily News Blog

01
Jul

EU Bans Pesticides in Parks, Playgrounds, and Playing Fields; Fails to Set Organic Transition Goals in Ag

(Beyond Pesticides, July 1, 2022) The European Commission (EC) introduced on June 22 new rules that ban all pesticides in “public parks or gardens, playgrounds, recreation or sports grounds, public paths, as well as ecologically sensitive areas.” In agriculture, the policy adopts strategies for achieving the pesticide use- and risk-reduction goals of its Farm to Fork initiative. The EC — the European Union’s (EU’s) politically independent executive arm — proffered new rules that are binding on all EU Member States. Those states must, in turn, adopt their own binding targets to help meet the overall EU targets — a 50% reduction in use and risk of chemical pesticides, and a 50% reduction in use of more-hazardous pesticides, by 2030. Beyond Pesticides has covered the shortcomings of the EU’s previous approach, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy and its 2021 disparagement by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, and his apparent turnaround in the large and recently announced USDA investment in the U.S. transition to organic agriculture (albeit without metrics or acreage goals), a transition F2F seeks to advance for the EU.

Regarding the ban of pesticides in parks, the policy says:

“Use of plant protection products may have particularly negative impacts in certain areas that are frequently used by the general public or by vulnerable groups, communities in which people live and work and ecologically sensitive areas, such as Natura 2000 sites protected in accordance with Directive 2009/147/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and Council Directive 92/43/EEC34. If plant protection products are used in areas used by the general public, the possibility of exposure of humans to such plant protection products is high. In order to protect human health and the environment, the use of plant protection products in sensitive areas and within 3 metres of such areas, should therefore be prohibited. Derogations from the prohibition should only be allowed under certain conditions and on a case by-case basis.” [According to the policy: ‘sensitive area’ means any of the following: (a) an area used by the general public, such as a public park or garden, recreation or sports grounds, or a public path; (b) an area used predominantly by a vulnerable group as defined in Article 3(14) of Regulation (EC) No 1107/ 2009. . .] The policy goes into effect on twentieth day following its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union.

The EC says, “We need to redesign our food systems, which today account for nearly one-third of global GHG emissions, consume large amounts of natural resources, result in biodiversity loss and negative health impacts . . . and do not allow fair economic returns and livelihoods for all actors, in particular for primary producers.” F2F is one major component of the European Green Deal — a plan to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent and “transform the EU into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy, ensuring (1) no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, (2) economic growth decoupled from resource use, [and] (3) no person and no place left behind.”

F2F aims to accelerate the transition to what it calls a “sustainable food system” — one that would:

  • ensure food security, nutrition, and public health, ensuring that everyone can access sufficient safe, nutritious food
  • have a neutral or positive environmental impact
  • help mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts
  • reverse biodiversity loss
  • preserve affordability of food while generating fairer economic returns, fostering competitiveness of the EU supply sector, and promoting fair trade

The new rules proposed by the EC introduce several provisions in pursuit of such a sustainable food system, including:
• legally binding pesticide-use-reduction targets

  • strict enforcement of “environmentally friendly” pest control, i.e., ensuring that all farmers practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM), in which all alternative methods of pest control are considered first, before chemical pesticides can be used as a last resort; Beyond Pesticides notes that this is not the same as organic production, wherein (in the U.S.) nearly no chemical pesticides are permitted
  • a ban on the use of all pesticides in sensitive areas (such as ecologically vulnerable areas, public parks and gardens, recreational/sports fields, playgrounds, and public paths)
  • EU financial support for farmers (“for 5 years, Member States can use the CAP to cover the costs of the new requirements for farmers”)

The EC rationale for these new rules rests on its recent evaluation of the previous iteration of the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive, and the commission’s subsequent conclusion that existing rules have been both far too anemic and implemented unevenly. The EC evaluation, as well as conclusions from the European Court of Auditors (the EU’s independent financial oversight body) and the European Parliament, demonstrated insufficient progress on the reduction of the risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment. (It should be noted that the F2F strategy strives for what it defines as “sustainable” use of pesticides, rather than “zero” use.)

The EC announcement added that those bodies identified “insufficient progress in promoting the use of Integrated Pest Management and alternative approaches or techniques, such as non-chemical alternatives to pesticides, in part, because already now chemical pesticides can harm human health and continue to contribute to biodiversity decline in agricultural areas, contaminate the air, the water and the wider environment.”

The EC cited several catalytic factors driving these new strategies: (1) major health risks from chemical pesticide exposure; (2) detection of pesticides above their effect threshold at 13–30% of all surface water monitoring sites in lakes and rivers across the EU; and (3) the pollinator and insect decimation, particularly as Europe already faces a pollination deficit. It also noted, “In case of inaction, the outlook for all environmental indicators is bleak with further declines in biodiversity.”

The announcement included this: “Our food production systems need to reduce their negative impact on climate change and biodiversity loss. The costs of inaction hugely outweigh the costs related to the transition towards sustainable food systems. The new rules will ensure that farmers and consumers can benefit from sustainable food systems and that our long-term food security is safeguarded.”

The EC offered information on how the outcomes of the new rules, once active (likely in a couple of years), will be monitored and measured. Data on the use and risks of pesticides will be ascertained annually through data on the sale of pesticides (or PPPs, Plant Protection Products), as reported to the EC by EU Member States. The baseline from which to calculate reductions will be the average pesticide sales in 2015, 2016, and 2017. All PPPs on the market will be assigned to one of four groups, each of which is assigned a “weighted” significance in terms of the compounds’ inherent risks; higher weightings reflect higher risk. The system aims to encourage the use of PPPs containing low-risk active substances (many of which are non-chemical), and to discourage the use of PPPs containing more-hazardous substances.

The focus on high-hazard compounds is well placed. Recent research, published in Environment International, concluded: all of the current 230 active EU-approved, synthetic, open-field-use herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides are hazardous to humans and/or ecosystems; none of those 230 has a completed hazard profile; and 124 of them are “top hazard” compounds. The researchers investigated the potential ability of seven different pesticide-use reduction scenarios to achieve the 50% reduction goals, and concluded that the 50% use and risk reduction target will be achieved only if the number (“pool”) of pesticide compounds available on the EU market is significantly reduced, or their uses strongly restricted. The study co-authors asserted that “strong restrictions are needed to match the Farm to Fork pesticide reduction goals.”

Environment and public health advocates across the EU are largely in support of F2F. Back in March, when pushback emerged in some other quarters (related to food supply chain issues in light of the Russian war on Ukraine), entities such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Compassion in World Farming, Climate Justice, and the Pesticide Action Network wrote a letter to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and other EU officials, saying: “We ask you to address this immediate crisis without undermining the environmental and social progress to which you committed in the European Green Deal.”

Pushback came largely from producer associations, but also, from government officials. The NGO’s concern, as reported by Agri-Pulse, arose specifically in response to a comment by European Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who said, “If food security is in danger, then we need to have another look at the objectives (of Farm to Fork) and possibly correct them.” The trade association Copa-Cocega chimed in with a comment asserting that European farmers need to concentrate on producing more corn, wheat, sunflower, and other crops to make up for the gap caused by Ukraine’s current inability to export crops.

In early June, Czech Director General for European Affairs Štěpán Černý told EURACTIV, “Let’s maybe forget for a while on [the] Farm to Fork strategy […] for a couple of months, and let’s mobilise the foodstuff production as much as we can.” He added, wrongly, that “The ambition of Farm to Fork . . . is to reduce the amount of food we are producing. And I don’t think that’s the wise thing to do only this right now when you’re being threatened by hunger.”

These kinds of comments trot out tired and short-sighted (and arguably, incorrect) arguments that serve profit and/or political ends. Food supply issues during the Ukraine crisis are real and important; yet, they can be dealt with as noted by the United States Institute of Peace and CGIAR (the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research), without sacrificing the critical long-term strategies of F2F. The agrochemical industry, producers who have become dependent on chemical-intensive production practices, politicians and officials who may fear the power of industry and/or trade groups, and — indirectly — consumers who are accustomed to unreasonably cheap food, may resist the “strictures” of F2F.

But such attitudes fail to see the long-term forest for the cheap and immediate trees: conventional chemical agriculture damages everything that humans care about — health, natural resources and ecosystems, pollinators, economic well-being, and climate chief among them. Organic regenerative agriculture obviates the needs for these chemical inputs, and would slash the damage they cause across the globe. F2F rarely uses the term “organic” in its frameworks and rules; nevertheless, they approximates many of the tenets of what the National Organic Standards set out here in the U.S. Further, F2F includes actions aimed to increase organic farming in the EU — to 25% of the EU agricultural land use by 2030.

On this side of the pond, USDA recently announced significantly greater funding for the transition of U.S. agricultural acres to organic production. The agency’s early June press release echoed some of F2F’s goal language; USDA asserted that this and other newly directed funding aim “to transform the food system to benefit consumers, producers and rural communities by providing more options, increasing access, and creating new, more, and better markets for small and mid-size producers.” As Beyond Pesticides wrote then, “it will be critical that this [USDA framework] result in concrete goals that set out specific metrics and timelines — particularly around the magnitude of acres shifted to organic production and the pace of the phaseout of non-organic substances and protocols.”

Whether the enactment of F2F strategies “on and in the ground” ends up comporting with top-level goals of F2F — to transition the agricultural and food sector to one that is “fair, healthy, and environmentally friendly” — is TBD (to be determined). What is clear is that the U.S. would do well to create a paradigm-shifting framework, roughly analogous to what the European Green Deal and F2F have set out, for its domestic agricultural sector. USDA’s National Organic Program is a robust toolkit already in place; what is required next is legislative and executive action to bring conventional producers into a “big organic tent” that would benefit everyone (save for the pesticide industry) and all of Nature.

Source: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/qanda_22_3694

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

 

 

 

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