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Daily News Blog

26
Jun

Pesticide Free Towns Taking Hold Worldwide with Growth in Europe

The Hungarian city of Törökbálint is one of several dozen towns joining European Pesticide Free Towns Network, representing the importance of organic.

Image: Globetrotter19, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

(Beyond Pesticides, June 26, 2024) The Hungarian city of Törökbálint (featured above) is one of several dozen towns to join the European Pesticide Free Towns Network, an initiative of Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe, based on a recent blog post welcoming the city into its Network. With elections coming up in European Union Parliament and EU member state nations across the continent, advocates believe in the importance of proactive actions local governments and towns launch to address the cascading crises of climate change, biodiversity deterioration, and public health fragility. In the U.S., Beyond Pesticides is working with communities nationwide, providing hands-on technical assistance in the adoption of organic land management practices.

“In recent years, our municipality has begun to explore the possibility of tackling an increasing number of city management problems with environmentally friendly solutions,” says Sándor Elek, mayor of Törökbálint in a public statement announcing the city’s membership. “We are phasing out chemical treatments in public areas and working on the continuous information and awareness-raising of the public. We are also working to promote the public acceptance of environmentally friendly mosquito control.” In joining the European Pesticide Free Towns Network, each city must pledge to four primary objectives:

  1. Ban the use of herbicides in public areas under city/town’s control
  2. Ban the use of all pesticides in public areas under city/town’s control
  3. Extend the ban of pesticides to private areas with public access and agricultural areas next to where citizens live
  4. Step up greening efforts towards local biodiversity enhancement

There are three tiers or categories in which local governments can adhere to: “glyphosate free in public area”, “pesticide free in public area”, and “entire pesticide free.” According to the database as of the day of publication, currently there are over 100 cities and towns that fall into “pesticide free in public area,” with two Italian cities of Urbino and Loro Ciuffenna banning glyphosate use in public areas and just one city in Europe (Bolzano, Switzerland) banning all pesticide use. There is a legacy of EU member states leading the charge on pesticide regulations and bans, as laid out on the Policy & Strategies page. Germany, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, France, Spain, and Luxembourg are acknowledged as leaders. Italy banned glyphosate use as pre-harvest chemical treatment in 2016. Belgium has different rules depending on the province, but generally has banned the use of pesticides in most contexts in Flanders (northern half of Belgium) as of 2015 and in the capital and province of Wallonia as of 2019. See this separate map for a focus on pesticide-free and glyphosate-free towns in Belgium here. However, Brussels Times depicts a different story as Belgium is engaged in active litigation by Nature & Progrès (Nature and Progress), PAN Europe, and Bond Beter Leefmilieu (Association for a Better Environment) on the matter of permitting toxic pesticide use including with active ingredients of abamectin this year and a separate action against authorization of organophosphate insecticide indoxacarb last year.

In the U.S., Beyond Pesticides’ Map of U.S. Pesticide Reform Policies includes 18 pesticide free park policies, 47 with restrictions that protect pollinators, 103 that apply to public spaces, and 27 that extend restrictions to private land. Communities across the U.S. are working with Beyond Pesticides and its Parks for a Sustainable Future program to adopt organic land management practices on public and private land within local jurisdictions, eliminating pesticides, and adopting ecological methods and product inputs. See also Tools for Change with model policies, including provisions for pubic and private property.

With the growth of local practices and policies that restrict pesticide use, the chemical industry and its allies are advocating federal U.S policies that preempt local authority as more local officials seek to fill a gap in enhancing public health and environmental protection that falls short under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) pesticide regulatory policies. The Farm Bill introduced by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives will eliminate the right of states and local governments to restrict pesticides and protect public health and the environment, and take away the right to sue for failure to warn when harmed by pesticides. A similar framework has been floated in by Republican Senators.

The European Union in recent years has taken the lead on toxic petrochemical pesticide regulations relative to the United States, although this may change given a series of critical elections in countries including France and Germany. Nathan Donley, PhD and Environmental Health Science Director for the Center for Biological Diversity in September 2022, published in a Brookings Institute article that over 4.37 million pounds of acephate are used annually in the U.S., while banned or being phased out in the European Union, Brazil, and India. Dr. Donley notes that the United States is unable to implement rational regulation of pesticides, as other parts of the world continue to eliminate agricultural use of many of the most toxic pesticides. For example, in 2019 the U.S. used 322 million pounds of 70 agricultural pesticides that are banned in the European Union. Similarly, the U.S. uses 40 million pounds of pesticides banned or phased out in Brazil.

In response to the introduction of pesticide bans and EU climate policies included in the European Green Deal, 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 a threat 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.” A recent analysis in Vox unpacks the current status of the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy: “By the end of 2023, before most of Farm to Fork had even been implemented, many of its core initiatives were already watered down or abandoned, including pesticide reduction mandates and farm animal welfare improvements. Also declawed was the nature restoration law, which would require EU member states to restore 20 percent of degraded habitats to preserve biodiversity, by calling on farmers to plant tree and flower strips along the edges of fields, for example. Industrial beef and dairy operations were also granted an exemption from industrial emissions targets despite being among the food system’s biggest emitters, responsible for most agricultural methane emissions.”

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 established the target of reducing overall pesticide use by 50 percent by 2030. According to reports by Associated Press, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen shelved this pesticide goal for all member states from moving forward in February 2024 amid farmer protests across Europe, including Spain, the Netherlands, and Bulgaria. 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 strategy in a broader organic farming framework, as Beyond Pesticides has recently reported. For context, USDA announced its Organic Transition Initiative (OTI) 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 similar to the EU approach.

Advocates welcome the growing leadership role of cities and local governments, be it in the United States or across the European Union, as national governments continue to abstain responsibility in preventing the biodiversity collapse, ongoing public health crises, and climate emergency. Subscribe to Action of the Week to learn how to take action in advancing organic land management practices and principles. See Keeping Organic Strong to learn more about the importance of shifting to an organic food system.

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

Source(s): Pesticide Action Network Europe

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