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Daily News Blog

31
Jan

Planting the Seeds of Change: Why the European Union Struggles to Meet 2030 Organic Farming Target

EU organic farming target for 2030 lags behind amidst compounding factors.

(Beyond Pesticides, January 31, 2024) A report published in December 2023 by the European Environment Agency (EEA) details opportunities and challenges to European organic farming targets for 2030. The European Union (EU) has set ambitious targets in its environmental policy—including the Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F) and European Green Deal (EGD)—with the goal to have at least 25 percent of European farmland run on organic land management practices by 2030. The EU’s approach to organic farming and pesticide regulation on agricultural land in comparison to public and private land offers insightful lessons for advocates in the United States to apply to their campaigns.

Some countries are ahead of the 25 percent by 2030 target, such as Austria, Estonia, and Sweden, with 20 percent of agriculture organically managed as of 2021. The German government is preparing to exceed the EU goal when the new coalition government presented a strategy last November outlining a 30 percent goal for 2030. Meanwhile, some countries are vastly underperforming—with Poland adding virtually zero farmland to organic production between 2012 and 2021. Overall, approximately 9.9 percent of total EU farmland follows organic standards as of 2021. At this rate, the EU will only meet 15 percent rather than 25 percent by 2030. France has taken a leading role in pesticide bans on public landscapes and private land that is frequently employed for public use, enforcing a strict ban on all pesticides in these areas in 2022. Under previous law, which is now the EU-wide regulation via F2F, France had the target of reducing overall pesticide use by 50 percent by 2030.

In response to the introduction of pesticide bans and EU climate policies included in the EGD, news outlets such as France24 have reported a groundswell of mass protests from farmers in France, Romania, and Germany who view these policies and the associated upfront costs of transitioning away from petrochemical pesticide use as an affront to their financial stability. France24 reports, “Frustration is…. mounting among farmers across Europe. They are unhappy about bans on pesticides cleared for use in other parts of the world and what they view as unfair competition from Ukrainian grain imports.” Meanwhile, farmers in South Africa have expressed outrage at the “hypocritical tactics European agrochemical companies use to sell products in developing nations, even when those products are deemed unsafe in their home countries.” This break between the interests of farmers and climate policy goals in the European Union demonstrates the significance of U.S. reluctance to commit to a full transition in coordination with F2F in a broader organic farming strategy, as Beyond Pesticides has recently reported. For context, USDA announced its Organic Transition Initiative last year providing $300 million USD in technical, insurance, and mentoring support for existing and transitional organic farms in the United States; however, the OTI did not establish an organic farming target akin to the EU approach.

Despite the different approaches in the U.S. versus EU, public health and environmental advocates and advocacy groups generally support F2F and the Common Agricultural Policy as a vessel for advancing organic land management across all EU member states. Certain policy decisions regarding the stringency of targets and administrative roadblocks to tougher pesticide regulations are compounded by widespread pushback from pesticide-dependent farmers across the European Union, which may explain current lags to reaching the 2030 goal. For example, after hearing a petition from representatives of the European Citizens’ Initiative to establish binding targets of 80 percent overall pesticide reduction and total pesticide ban by 2035, the European Commission rejected the proposal “citing economic costs for farmers and consumers,” according to reporting by EurActiv. This move is not a surprise given the findings of a 2022 study published in the National Library of Medicine. The authors point out that the reduction of herbicide use poses a unique challenge to EGD’s stated goal of 50 percent pesticide reduction by 2030, given the decrease in alternatives in recent years and mixed understandings of concepts such as herbicidal resistance.

Additionally, Beyond Pesticides indicated in an article last year that EU and U.S. Pesticide Regulators Ignore Developmental Neurotoxicity of Pesticides as investigative journalists report that, “Of the nine undisclosed DNT [developmental neurotoxicity] studies [‘submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but were not disclosed to EU authorities’], three were sponsored by Bayer and performed in their own laboratory. Three studies were sponsored by Syngenta and performed in their Central Toxicology Laboratory. One study each was sponsored by Nissan Chemicals and Ishihara Sangyo Kaisha (ISK), and these were performed at Huntingdon Life Sciences. For the remaining study, the sponsor and laboratory are unknown to us.” The article continues, “In both the U.S. and the E.U., companies registering pesticides must provide evidence from toxicological studies to support their marketing plans. But in both countries, there is a built-in conflict of interest in the way the science is used to justify commercial ends, and the fox should not be the party rationalizing its presence in the henhouse.”

The groundswell of grassroots action in both the EU and the U.S. demonstrates growing public awareness of regulatory capture by the petrochemical pesticide industry and the pitfalls of these dangerous pesticides on food supply chain resilience, public health, and biodiversity protections. In the U.S. context in recent years, there has been recent movement in pesticide bans on public property, such as prohibiting day-time applications of pesticides on the grounds of Illinois public schools. State-level action on pesticide bans and actions builds upon the legacy of over 200 cities, counties, and municipalities that have some level of pesticide application restrictions on private and public land. As the Farm Bill negotiations continue, there are still opportunities to contact local elected officials as well as Congress to protect local and state authority to regulate pesticide use.

Given escalating existential crises in public health threats, biodiversity collapse, and climate, Beyond Pesticides calls for the elimination of petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers by 2032 with the transition to organic land management. (See Transformative Change: Informed by Science, Policy, an Action.) For a discussion of critical issues on the crises and their relationship to petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers, see our National Forum—Meeting the Health, Biodiversity, and Climate Crises with a Path for Livable Future (2022).

Beyond Pesticides has compiled numerous studies that indicate a plethora of benefits that emerge from the production, distribution, and consumption of organic food products. For example, research conducted by the Environmental Pollution journal, “found that children who ate organic food displayed higher scores measuring fluid intelligence and working memory. Lower scores on fluid intelligence tests were associated with children’s fast food intake, house crowding, and exposure to tobacco smoke. Lower scores on working memory tests were associated with exposure to poor indoor air quality.” For more information on the health benefits of organic farming, see our sections on Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture and Eating With a Conscience for breakdowns on the public health, environmental justice, and ecological benefits of organic food.

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

Source: European Environment Agency

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