Slow Food and “Save Bees and Farmers” meet with European Commissioners

28 Nov 2022

On November 25, the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) “Save Bees and Farmers” entered a new stage, as its representatives, Slow Food included, were received by European Commissioners Věra Jourová (Values and Transparency) and Stella Kyriakides (Health and Food Safety), to formally present their demands backed by over 1,1 million EU citizens: 

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1   A phase-out of the use of synthetic pesticides 

By 2030 the use of synthetic pesticides shall be gradually reduced by 80 percent in EU agriculture. By 2035, agriculture in the entire Union shall be working without synthetic pesticides. 

2   Measures to recover biodiversity 

Habitats shall be restored, and agricultural areas shall become a vector of biodiversity recovery. 

3   Support for farmers 

Farmers must be supported in the necessary transition towards agroecology. Small, diverse and sustainable farms shall be favored, organic farming expanded, and research into pesticide-free and GMO-free agriculture will be supported. 

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Marta Messa, secretary general of Slow Food commented: “The mobilisation of so many citizens across Europe shows that producing food that is good for those who eat, for those who produce it and for the planet matters to many. Such a strong statement by citizens cannot be disregarded”. 

The European Citizens Initiative (ECI) “Save Bees and Farmers” was officially validated by the European Commission on October 10, with 1.1 million signatures collected in 2 years. 15 civil society representatives, including Slow Food and 5 of the 7 citizens who initiated the ECI on September 30, 2019 were present at the meeting with the two EU Commissioners. This meeting comes at a very timely moment, as the EU Farm to Fork Strategy’s target to “reduce by 50% the use and risk of chemical pesticides by 2030”, is severely under threat: the Commission’s proposal on the “Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation” is receiving a lot of push back from a number of Member States, conservative groups in the European Parliament, requesting a deeper assessment of the impact of the regulation proposal on food security which they argue is at risk due to the war raging in Ukraine. On 10 November, Slow Food had joined 30 NGOs in reacting to the discussions in the Council of the EU in a joint letter. Clarity on whether the file is going to be delayed is expected in December, after the next meeting of agriculture ministers at the AGRI-FISH Council meeting. Friday’s meeting was an important opportunity for the ECI representatives to draw the EU Commission’ attention on several points. 

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Madeleine Coste, Slow Food’s policy officer added: “The EU Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy give EU citizens hope for a better future. We cannot let the agro-industry torpedo these good commitments and halt our transition to sustainable agriculture. Our EU leaders must listen to citizens and show them they are truly committed to a healthy, fair, and nature-friendly food system!” 

First, the group reiterated civil society’s support to the Commission’s commitment to cutting pesticide use but asked that the European Union make a plan to phase out the use of synthetic pesticides entirely. 

Second, the coalition reminded the Commission that alternatives to pesticides such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and agroecological practises already exist. Yet, the EU has so far failed to adequately promote the uptake of these practices while continuing to subsidize industrial agriculture. As a result, pesticide use in Europe has been on the rise since the implementation of the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive (SUD) back in 2009. 

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The group also pointed out that heavy pesticide use presents an untestable danger to bees and other pollinators on which our food system relies – beekeepers across Europe are alarmed at the rate of disappearance of bee colonies. Linked to this point is the critical need for protection areas for the retreat and survival of insects. 

The ECI “Save Bees and Farmers” is not just about cutting pesticide use but also about demanding systemic change to our food system which requires strong policy support to farmers to transition, with relevant measures introduced in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and in the upcoming Sustainable Food System (SFS) Law. Farmers are currently locked into a system where they need to apply more and more pesticides as plants are becoming more susceptible to pests.   

Lastly, we warned the EU Commission that the drastic reduction of pesticide use cannot be achieved with genetic engineering and new genomic techniques (NGT). We need a complete system change, not short-term “techno-fixes”. 

1,1 million EU citizens have made their demands clear through this official EU tool – now is the chance for the European Union to step up and demonstrate its commitment to the EU Farm to Fork Strategy and demonstrate its international leadership in protecting biodiversity. 

 

Background 

A European Citizens Initiative enables EU citizens to call directly on the European Commission to propose a legal act (notably a Directive or Regulation) in an area where the Member States have conferred powers onto the EU level. If the initiative gathers at least one million signatures from citizens of the European Union, who are nationals of at least seven member states, the EU Commission is obliged to address the ECI’s demands. ECIs active during the COVID-19 pandemic received a 1-year extension due to the difficult conditions affecting signature collection.  

The formal process of a successful European Citizens Initiative includes a meeting between its representatives and the European Commission, as well as a public hearing at the European Parliament. The EU Parliament may also hold a debate in a plenary session, which could lead to it adopting a resolution related to the ECI’s issues.  

The delegation visiting the EU Commission:  

Dr Polyxeni Nicolopoulo (Greece, medical doctor, individual member of the citizens committee), Annemarie Gluderer (South Tyrol, Italy, organic farmer, individual member of the citizens committee), Constantin Dobrescu (Romania, beekeeper, Romapis and BeeLife), Dr Helmut Burtscher (Austria, scientist, Global2000), Johann Lutke-Schwienhorst (Germany, Aurelia Stiftung), Corinna Hoelzel (Germany, BUND), Veronika Feicht (Germany, Umweltinstitut München), Karl Baer (Germany, former main representative of the citizens committee, now member of the Bundestag), Madeleine Coste (Slow Food Europe), Clara Bourgin (France, Friends of the Earth Europe), Luís Morago (Spain, Avaaz), Natalija Svrtan (Croatia, PAN Europe), Tjerk Dalhuisen (Netherlands, PAN Europe) and Dr Martin Dermine (Belgium, PAN Europe). 

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