Civil society organisations including Friends of the Earth and the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) have submitted a proposal to the European Commission (EC) for a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) calling for new legislation to phase out pesticides.
They are calling on the EC to introduce legal proposals to: Phase out synthetic pesticides by 2035; restore biodiversity; and support a rapid increase in organic practice and farmer-based training and research into pesticide and GMO-free farming.
An ECI is a way for citizens to call on the EC to make a legislative proposal. Once an initiative gathers one million signatures, the EC decides on what follow-up action to take.
Crop Protection Association CEO Sarah Mukherjee says the aims of the campaign are not grounded in science and would have a negative impact on the environment.
“As the European Parliament’s own research service recently stated when discussing farming without pesticides and a move to an organic only model; ‘At farm level, all scientific meta-studies indicate that increase in biodiversity is marginal, but globally there will be a drastic decrease as organic farming is about 25 per cent less productive than conventional.’
“There would be significant impacts on food security, food prices and food quality. A recent study by independent economist Sean Rickard found that without access to PPPs [plant protection products], a family of four would pay an extra £800 for their weekly shop over the course of a year. In the UK we already have eight million people in food poverty and four million regularly using foodbanks.”
According to Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and European Parliament reports, up to 40 per cent of global crop yields are lost to plant pests and diseases each year, says NFU senior regulatory affairs adviser, Plant Health Unit, Dr Chris Hartfield.
“Without pesticides these losses could double. When campaigns fail to acknowledge the role pesticides play in current food production, they also fail to adequately address how the safe, affordable and reliable supply of European produced food would continue if these crop protection tools were all removed.”
Regulation and policies need to be based on science and evidence, he adds. “This current campaign cites the work of international scientists (IPBES) calling for transformative changes to restore and protect nature, but these scientists do not single out pesticides as the cause of declines and do not call for bans in pesticide use.”
All pesticides used in the UK are only approved following rigorous and independent scrutiny to ensure they do not present an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment, says Hazel Doonan, head of crop protection and agronomy sector at Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC).
“This approach has ensured both the viability of farming businesses, but also the availability of safe, wholesome, affordable food.”
The fact the proposal distinguishes between synthetic and non-synthetic pesticides is also questioned. Ms Mukherjee says: “We would question why this campaign makes a distinction between synthetic and non-synthetic pesticides. Our members manufacture both, producing inputs for conventional and organic growers alike. Whether a chemical is naturally occurring or synthetic tells us nothing about its toxicity or impact on the environment.”
Removing synthetic pesticides would leave UK farming dependent on a very small number of active substances which are currently available to organic farmers and growers such as copper compounds, ferric phosphate and sulphur, says Ms Doonan. “1.2 per cent of UK cereals are grown using non-synthetic pesticides. If this area expanded to 100 per cent one would expect reduced yields and impaired quality in both field and store.”
Since the ECI was initiated in 2012, she says four initiatives have been successful, 42 were withdrawn or failed to receive sufficient support and 22 were refused.