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EU-Pesticide Reduction Plan SUR under attack

EU plans to cut pesticide use and risk by half and protect the most sensitive environments could be torpedoed by agriculture ministers on Saturday 10 December. The agrochemical lobby is attacking the draft of the EU Commission named "Sustainable use of plant protection products - SUR" which should reduce the use of harmful chemicals by 50% by 2030.

The proposal for the first legally binding EU pesticide cuts was tabled in June by the European Commission, after nearly two decades of failed efforts to reduce harmful farm chemicals. Consumers and European Citizens’ Initiatives like "Save Bees and Farmers" (one, two) were recently successful by handing over more than 1 million signatures in Brussels. There is also criticism from the European Parliament. It´s time to change the agricultural food system.

Lost chance: Farm ministers could shoot down the Commission’s proposal

In a press conference today, December 6, it was informed that as early as next Saturday, ministerial representatives in Brussels are expected to hold a definitive vote on a plan to ask the Commission for an additional ‘impact assessment’. The delay means the legislation may not be adopted before the next European elections, at which point it would be “killed”, according to anonymous diplomats. The Commission has already reportedly offered to water down protections for sensitive social groups and ecological habitats, to accommodate ministers.

In the press conference, scientists, small-scale farming and organic agriculture movements and the initiators of the successful European Citizens' Initiative Save Bees and Farmers called on the EU governments to swiftly and constructively negotiate the legislative proposal without demanding a further impact assessment.

Screenshot of the participants of the press conference (around 100)

Opposition fits a pattern of protecting big Agri interests

Classified minutes from a November meeting of ministers, obtained by Global 2000, show that 17 of 26 ministers want the additional impact assessment, including Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, while Germany, France, Spain, Croatia, Cyprus, Belgium and Sweden oppose. A qualified majority is needed to win the vote.

Status of requirements, table by GLOBAL 2000

GLOBAL 2000 chemicals expert, and co-initiator of the European Citizens’ Initiative Save Bees and Farmers, Dr Helmut Burtscher-Schaden, said: "Some ministers are using ‘paralysis by analysis’ to try and kill this bold pesticide plan. They point to the Ukraine food crisis as justification, but their opposition fits a pattern of protecting big Agri interests that stretches back nearly 2 decades. This is extremely short-sighted. A majority seem to have lined up on the wrong side of the argument, but there could still be changes, so the vote outcome is still not certain.”

On 18 March 660 scientists voiced their support for the Commission’s pesticide plan.

Lead signatory and Co-Chair of the World Biodiversity Council, Josef Settele, said: "Current political efforts to abandon the sustainability goals of the European Green Deal, including the reduction of pesticide use and the restoration of biodiversity, do not protect us from the current food crisis, but lead to a worsening and make the crisis permanent. Already, global warming and biodiversity loss are affecting crop yields and livelihoods worldwide.

The window of opportunity to ensure a livable future on this planet through decisive and targeted action is closing fast. If we fail today to initiate the necessary transformation of our food system as outlined in the Farm to Fork strategy, this situation will worsen considerably."

Josef Settele, World Biodiversity Council)

President of IFOAM Organics Europe, Jan Plagge, said: "More than three hundred thousand organic farmers across Europe prove every day that farming models like organic and other agroecological practices, that do not use synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, can contribute to the preservation of biodiversity and at the same time provide healthy food in best quality and sufficient quantity. To keep it that way, we need to protect our ecosystems.

"Reducing synthetic pesticides use and increasing agricultural diversity is essential to protect the natural resources on which we depend to produce our food. IFOAM Organics Europe, therefore, calls on all Member States to continue working constructively on the SUR."

Jan Plagge, President of IFOAM Organics Europe

The farmer Ramona Duminicioiu from Eco Ruralis association, representing over 17,000 farmers and small producers in Romania says: "Romania is a country of small-scale farmers, having more than 4 million people active in agriculture with more than 90% of farmers working less than 5 hectares.

We are sure that the strictest possible regulation of all chemical inputs in agriculture is welcome for small and medium producers because it contributes to lowering the costs of production which is critical in the current crisis. It contributes to the health of the environment, consumers and of people who work or come into direct contact with these toxic substances. We are capable to produce all the necessary food and even better food, without the high costs of chemicals."

Ramona Duminicioiu from Eco Ruralis association

More information:

The draft proposal will not be ready for a formal vote at the AGRIFISH meeting of 11 & 12 December, so ministers have delegated the decision to a vote by representatives meeting on Saturday, according to GLOBAL 2000 sources.

The decision will be added to a later council meeting as an A-point adopted at the end of the meeting without discussion. The unusually rushed process is being pushed by the Czech EU presidency, which wants to conclude the matter before its term expires in the New Year.

Author: Karin Heinze, BiO Reporter International, based on press release and press conference

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