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Pesticides are everywhere - inventory and requirements

A panel of experts presented the status quo and perspectives of pesticide use in agriculture in a two-hour webinar organised by the Bündnis für enkeltaugliche Landwirtschaft and the office of Martin Häusling, agricultural policy spokesperson for the Greens in the EU Parliament. Current shortcomings in the directives and planned improvements were discussed. Conclusion of the event: Synthetic pesticides are omnipresent, even in breast milk and cerebrospinal fluid of infants, their toxicity harms humans, animals and nature - so far so frightening. As part of the Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy, the EU Commission wants to halve pesticide use in Europe by 2030. The publication of the corresponding regulation was postponed to the end of June due to the Ukraine war.

Chart Bündnis Enkeltaugliche Landwirtschaft, methodology of the study on the long-distance transport of pesticides

High costs for society and inadequate authorisation procedure

Lisa Tostado from the Heinrich Böll Foundation (EU), which also publishes the Pesticide Atlas, moderated and started by giving an overview of the issues that will be highlighted in the EU webinar: Where do pesticide inputs come from, how do they spread and what are the consequences of agricultural poisons. Martin Dermine from the Pesticide Action Network, PAN Europe, gave a very impressive presentation. Pesticides are the only toxic substances that have been allowed to be applied uncontrolled on a large scale to our soils and food. A completely inadequate authorisation procedure hardly restricts the use of massively toxic agricultural poisons, and even if a substance has been banned in the past, it can still be detected in the environment decades later. The costs of pesticides are also little discussed. Dermine put them at about 2.3 billion euros a year for the EU population, which has to pay for the purification of drinking water with taxes, among other things. The pesticide industry's narrative that there is safe use of agricultural poisons is a myth, he said. Dermine stressed that "agroecology is more profitable, more resistant and makes farms less dependent on markets and subsidies", which has been proven.

Panel f.l.: Lisa Tostado, Johanna Bär, Martin Dermine, Johannes Heimrath, Martin Häusling, Andrew Owen-Griffith, Stephan Paulke

Long-distance transport of pesticide active substances via the air

Johanna Bär, Executive Director of the Alliance for an Agriculture Fit for Grandchildren, presented the study on pesticide pollution in the air published in 2019 by BEL together with the Munich Environment Institute. It is the most comprehensive Germany-wide monitoring of the long-distance transport of pesticide active substances via the air to date. A total of 138 pesticides were detected at 163 study sites. According to Bär, the health effects are still largely unexplored. Moreover, the long-distance transport of pesticides has fatal consequences for the environment and organic farming.

Johannes Heimrath, board member and co-founder of BEL and the citizens' initiative Landwende, pointed out a serious problem: "Agricultural poisons kill useful microorganisms - this also applies to those found in the microbiome of the human lung. What effects this has is virtually completely unexplored." As long as this data is not available, Heimrath says, the precautionary principle must apply, and pesticides whose fate in fields is not proven must be banned. Dr. Peter Clausing of PAN Germany supported Heimrath's statement and also pointed out massive gaps in knowledge, as well as the fact that the lungs do not have a filtering function for pollutants like the liver.

Screenshot Johanna Bär, BEL, pesticides in the air

Organic sector unfairly bears the high costs

Stephan Paulke, Managing Director of the organic manufacturer EgeSun, addressed the high costs that are incurred not only by all taxpayers but also by organic farms. At EgeSun alone, he put the costs for residue tests at over 200,000 euros per year. According to Paulke, it is not acceptable that the burden of proof in the case of contamination lies solely with organic farms, as has been the case up to now. "The pesticide industry must urgently pay for the damage caused to organic farmers," he demanded, because the right of coexistence for organic farms was not guaranteed due to the long-distance transport of pesticides through the air.

Martin Häusling, agricultural policy spokesman of the Greens in the European Parliament and member of the Environment Committee, who has been campaigning for an agricultural turnaround for years, emphasised: "40% of pesticide use is completely senseless. The use of pesticides must be the exception and not the rule." The drastic reduction of pesticides is an urgent necessity, he said. With regard to the authorisation procedure, Häusling stated: "We are far away from an authorisation procedure that is safe enough to be relied on."

Organic sector's Alliance for Grandchildren-Friendly Agriculture "Ackergifte? No thanks"

Pesticide reduction regulation proposal postponed

European Commission representative Andrew Owen-Griffiths said of the new Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation under the Farm to Fork Strategy: "We are not going to water down the regulation. The proposal for the regulation is fixed and there will be no more changes." Owen-Griffiths dismissed accusations that the publication of the regulation had been postponed due to pressure from the agricultural lobby. The postponement would only have to do with prioritisation due to the Ukraine war. The publication could probably be expected on 22 June, but in any case before the parliamentary summer recess.

Appeal to politics and industry

Johanna Bär states in her closing remarks: "Our study provides the basis for change. The issue of phasing out pesticides must finally become part of everyday social and political life. We hope that the EU Commission will make the right decisions and not water down the goals of the Farm-to-Fork Strategy." In addition to politicians, BEL board member Johannes Heimrath also appeals to the industry:

"Just turn their paradigm around. Move away from the battle metaphor to the care metaphor, i.e. from pathogenesis to salutogenesis. Find things that nourish and protect instead of things that kill and destroy."

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