As part of the European Union’s (EU) Farm to Fork Strategy, the European Commission recently announced the plan to cut the use of chemical pesticides in half by 2030. The strategy aims to make food systems healthier and more environmentally friendly.
Some governments are raising opposition to the proposal, citing the current food crisis brought about in part by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “The time is completely inappropriate to make this proposal because we are in a moment where food is needed in Europe,” said Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann.
But for Palladium’s Director of Natural Resource Systems, Eduardo Tugendhat, food security shouldn’t be a concern or part of the equation. “This should not significantly affect the amount of food produced,” he explains. “Farmers often dump excessive amounts of pesticides because they lack the knowledge of exactly when to apply during the lifecycle of pests, and how to apply more precisely.”
As part of the proposal, the EU introduced the note that there will be ‘strict rules to enforce environmentally friendly pest control’ which will ensure that all farmers consider alternative methods of pest control first before chemical pesticides can be used as a last resort.
“By 2030, half of chemical pesticides should be replaced by alternatives, with practices like crop rotation and technologies like precision farming,” said Frans Timmermans, VP of European Commission.
Tugendhat adds that this is reasonable, especially as alternatives become more mainstream. “Biological controls and integrated pest management practices are increasingly possible, though the former are sometimes a bit more difficult in the EU due to controls on genetic modifications on parasites or insects that control pests.”
But why now? Pests have long plagued farmers and chemical pesticides have been in widespread use since the 1930’s. According to the EU Commission, the existing rules on the sustainable use of pesticides aren’t strong enough and the latest reports on the build up of pesticide residue in the environment is concerning, The commission cites estimates that nearly 385 million cases of unintentional acute pesticide poisonings occur every year, resulting in 11,000 deaths.
That’s in addition to chemical pesticides’ contribution to climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that about 30% of global emissions are attributed to agricultural activities, including the use of pesticides. And as Tugendhat explains, it’s a vicious cycle. “Over time, pests evolve to become more resistant to pesticides, which means farmers end up using more and more.”
But the issue, he says, is a matter of knowledge. “Most farmers lack knowledge and experience with practices and technology that can reduce the pesticides they’re using. The global trend we’re seeing towards more organic agriculture shows that it’s possible, but it requires a lot of sophistication and usually comes at a higher cost.”
More sustainable farming practices, as Tugendhat notes, will be critical in eliminating widespread pesticide use but will also be critical in stabilising food security. Most importantly, if agricultural practices continue to harm the environment, there will be less arable land for crops and less space for agriculture.
Tugendhat is hopeful that the legislation will further the sustainability agenda. “Hopefully the regulation will also incentivise further investment in new technologies and training of farmers so that they can adapt.”
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