Slow Food: can the “Sustainable Use of Pesticides” really be sustainable?

07 Apr 2021 | English

The European public consultation is the last call to ask for binding targets 

The EU is currently revising the Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (SUD), that came into force in 2014 with the aim of reducing the risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment, and to promote the use of Integrated Pest Management as well as non-chemical approaches to pest control in Europe. In its review of the progress made under this directive, the European Commission concluded that a majority of Member States had failed to promote sustainable use of pesticides and were not meeting the requirements set out in the directive. FAO data paints a worrying picture: in 2017 in Italy an average of 6.1 kg of pesticides were used per hectare of agricultural land; a total of 56,641 tons. France and Spain use half as many pesticides on average (3.6 kg per hectare), while Germany does not exceed 4 kg: in any case, these quantities are far too high to be considered sustainable.

“The review of the SUD represents the best and probably only opportunity to set binding targets for the reduction of synthetic pesticide use. The EU Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy propose to reduce pesticide use by 50% by 2030. However we should loudly reaffirm what half a million citizens have called for in signing the Save bees and farmers ECI: a reduction of 80% by 2030 and a complete phase out by 2035. To fully phase out pesticides, we need to set minimum contributions for each Member State, improve the data collection on the use of pesticides from farmers, and promote agroecology and the uptake of alternatives to synthetic pesticides,” comments Marta Messa, Director of Slow Food Europe. On this point, “Slow Food stresses the importance of limiting the use of pesticides as much as possible, starting with the abolition of their preventive use, in farming but also in gardening and forestry. Integrated Pest Management practises have to become mandatory for farmers, and we must provide support for the transition towards agroecology and encourage farm management systems that aim to re-establish the symbiosis between bees and agriculture. Of course alternatives to pesticides must not include GMOs or new GMOs, which perpetuate a model of agriculture based on monocultures and industrial agriculture while posing a risk to biodiversity and farmers’ sovereignty.”

As part of the review process of the directive, the European Commission launched an online public consultation, to find out what European citizens and organizations think about the best ways to reduce pesticide use in the EU. Everyone can contribute until April 12 at this link.

The EU must urgently promote a transition towards a bee-friendly agricultural model, one which is able to preserve the biodiversity of agricultural landscapes and guarantee their future sustainability. Decades of continued industrialization of our agricultural and food systems have contributed significantly to a dramatic decline in biodiversity and in the number of pollinators, the contamination of our soil and water, and the presence of chemicals in European food. On a global scale, more than 40% of invertebrate pollinator species are at risk of disappearing, jeopardizing the ecosystem and the services it renders, which human society is dependent upon. In Europe, almost half of insect species are in serious decline and a third are threatened with extinction. In addition, 9% of bee and butterfly species are threatened with extinction, 37% of wild bee populations are drastically declining, while the decline in butterfly populations has reached 31% (Red list of European bees and Red list of European butterflies, IUCN 2015). Numerous scientific studies, the European Commission and the European Court of Auditors have identified the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture as one of the main causes of this decline.

“What Europe needs are diversified agroecological food systems, based on farming agrobiodiversity, with lower dependency on external inputs. These may stimulate social relationships and shorter supply chains, build long-term healthy agroecosystems and secure livelihoods. This will be instrumental in helping farmers adopt more bee-friendly farming practices, and improve economic incentives to adopt agroecology and Integrated Pest Management practices,” concludes Messa. It is critical that changes to our agricultural system are made in the next few years if we are to reach the Green Deal targets.

Read more about our position on the new EU Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies, here.

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