As part of the Green Deal, the EU is currently discussing a new regulation to reduce pesticide use: the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation (SUR). The proposal includes binding targets to reduce the use and risk of pesticides by 50% in 2030, in line with the EU’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies. As decision makers are preparing to vote on this crucial regulation in the coming weeks, here are key reasons why we urgently need an ambitious regulation.
1 To protect human health, especially for farmers and rural communities
Pesticide use has significant impacts on human health. Occupational exposure to pesticides causes very serious illness to farmers and farm workers. The health of citizens in general, including children, is also increasingly threatened by pesticide exposure. Pesticide exposure has been linked to increased risks of several illnesses, among which different forms of cancer, neurological disorders, cardiovascular diseases, fertility issues and impairments of respiratory health. Pesticides are shown to drift over far distances, up to several kms. Reducing pesticide use would lower the risk of both acute poisoning and chronic health issues, reduce the costs related to healthcare and lead to healthier populations.
2 To protect the environment and ensure future food production
Pesticides are a huge threat to the entire ecological system. They pollute soils, aquatic systems and nature areas, and are found at far distances from where they are applied. They harm ecosystem functioning, on which many important services depend, including food production. The widespread use of pesticides is a key driver in the catastrophic decline of insect populations, when they are essential to provide abundant harvests and food security. They also harm other organisms, and have among more contributed to steep reductions in bird populations. Insects, birds and biodiversity in general play essential roles in natural pest control. Prolonged pesticide use also degrades soil quality, leading to reduced crop yields and long-term impacts on food production. The IPCC, IPBES, the FAO and many other scientists and international institutions stress that business as usual is not an option if we want to ensure resilient and profitable food systems. Over 6000 scientists recently signed a letter debunking the myths around the SUR and the need for a strong regulation as a cornerstone of food security and a sustainable food system.
3 To reduce the cost born by society
The consequences and costs of failing to tackle health impacts, environmental degradation and the decline of pollinators and other insects, far outweigh any predicted costs related to pesticide reduction. In Germany, a study estimated that the annual costs of biodiversity loss due to intensive agriculture alone amounted to 50 billion euros. Another study from France estimates that the societal costs of pesticide use represent more than 10% of the 2017 annual budget of the French Ministry of Food and Agriculture.
4 Citizens are waiting for it
Many citizens are putting trust in the EU to deliver on the promises of the EU Green Deal. Over a million Europeans signed the Save Bees and Farmers Citizens’ Initiative to demand a reduction of synthetic pesticides of 80% by 2030, a full phase-out by 2035, and strong support to be given to farmers in their transition towards more environmentally friendly practices. A recent poll conducted by the European Public Affairs team of the market research agency IPSOS found that over as many as 82% of respondents are concerned about the environmental impact of pesticide use while 76% worry about the health risks. As many as 73% are in favour of making Integrated Pest Management rules mandatory, and 85% are in favour of applying the precautionary principle when it comes to pesticide authorisations. When offered a range of buffer zones between areas where pesticides are used and sensitive areas, as many as 41,8% cumulatively opted for the two largest buffer zone options, namely 1.000 and 3.000 meters.