Pesticide Action Week: It is Time to Act

Despite many events having been canceled due to Coronavirus, the Pesticide Action Week is back once again celebrating its fifteenth year online. The upcoming ten days from March 20 to 30 are dedicated to raising awareness around chemical pesticides and the dangers of their use both for human health and the environment.

For over 20 years, the French organization “Generations Futures” has been working on the issue of chemical pesticides and the harm they cause. Every year, at the beginning of spring, it calls farmers, organizations and institutional actors together, grouping of over 50 international partners, including Slow Food. 

In Europe, the topic is as relevant as ever. The European Commission is expected to publish the Farm to Fork Strategy, i.e. the part of the European Green Deal in April. It should allow the EU to make a real contribution in terms of its sustainability targets and take on the great challenges facing our food systems. It will be interesting to see how much space is given to the eradication, albeit gradual, of pesticides and what measures are expected in order to ensure the transition of European agriculture towards more sustainable forms of cultivation like agroecology. 

The European Court of Auditors  in its report on “Sustainable use of plant protection products: limited progress in measuring and reducing risks” has verified whether the actions of the EU have had a positive impact. The outcome? Negative. For example, not all Member States have written into national law that farmers must apply integrated strategies (which consist of the use of pesticides only as a last resort, once other methods have proved ineffective). Furthermore, farmers are not incentivized to reduce their dependency on pesticides. In particular – notes the Court – the application of the principles of integrated defense strategies is not included as a condition for receiving CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) subsidies. The Court has revealed that the statistics regarding active substances and their use, as published by the Commission (Eurostat), were not detailed enough to be useful. Nor was the data supplied to Member States sufficiently consistent or updated. In short, from this point of view, a decisive change is necessary.

Unfortunately, the producers of pesticides like Bayer-Monsanto, BASF, and Syngenta, as well as the governments of the United States and Canada, are all fighting tooth and nail against these European pesticide rules, and with success. The assumed negative impacts of these rules on international trade have been key to this. The threat of tariffs has been used to dissuade the EU from implementing its plan to ban these products. Negotiations are ongoing. 

Luckily, the scientific community seems to have taken a solid position.  During the International Agricultural Show in Paris, this February, 24 research institutes from 16 European countries stated that “s strong demand from public authorities, agricultural professionals and wider society across Europe has pushed forward a collaborative research effort to accelerate the transition to agroecology”. To take on this challenge, they have published a joint declaration of intent “Towards chemical pesticide-free agriculture”, which proposes a rethink of the way research is conducted and the development of new common strategies, not just as the national level, but across the continent. 

The Pesticide Action Week also comes at a time when 90 European organizations in 17 countries are conducting a campaign in defense of bees. The argument is directly related, because pollinating insects, including bees, are disappearing because of our use of pesticides.  

Bees play a fundamental role in biodiversity and agriculture. They are an integral part of our food system because they pollinate the crops which end up as food on our tables. And they are disappearing. Among the main causes are pesticides, widely used over decades in conventional agricultural systems without taking into account the direct and indirect consequences on the environment. Today we know the harmful effects of pesticides and some products have already been banned –  as the use of some neonicotinoid insecticides in Europe.  But these measures are insufficient because the current system of risk evaluation is based on the mortality of adult bees. As it has been demonstrated by research, the legally-allowed doses of pesticides provoke a loss of orientation and compromise the immune and reproductive systems of bees, and that these effects are passed on through the generations, as the larvae raised on contaminated pollen do not develop correctly, which can lead the collapse of colonies.

The “Save bees and farmers!” campaign aims to gather a million signatures by September 2020, so that the Commission and European Parliament are obliged to legislate on the issue, taking into consideration the principles of the campaign. Slow Food has been working for years to raise awareness among the general public of the drastic reduction in the world bee population and asks to ban harmful pesticides, highlighting how the destruction of biodiversity is linked to the crisis of the bees. With this European Citizens’ Initiative, we are committed to ensuring that sustainable, bee-friendly agriculture is practiced across Europe. 

The ECI asks the European Commission to put forward legal proposals to: 

1.Eliminate synthetic pesticides: removing 80% of the synthetic chemical substances present in European agriculture by 2030, starting with the most dangerous ones, so that agriculture can be totally free of synthetic pesticides by 2035; 

2.Recover biodiversity: to restore natural ecosystems in agricultural areas so that agriculture becomes a factor in defending biodiversity; 

3.Sustain farmers in the transition: to reform agriculture by giving priority to small-scale, sustainable, diversified farming, promoting a rapid increase in agroecological and organic practices, providing training to this end, and conducting independent scientific research on pesticide- and GMO-free agriculture. 

If you agree, sign the ECI “Save beers and farmers!”  

Paola Nano, Slow Food

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