Frequently asked questions
Why such a radical approach? Are 15 years not far too short a period of time to switch to an agriculture without synthetic pesticides?
When a farmer decides to become a certified organic farmer, it takes three years in order for his land and harvests to receive the organic label, meaning no synthetic pesticide was used throughout the production process. Such a transformation is knowledge-intensive and requires training and adaptation on the farmer’s side. We therefore consider that 15 years is a sufficient period of time to train farmers to adopt pesticide-free practices. 15 years would allow for a smooth transition period but with clear objectives.
Furthermore, we have already gambled away the opportunity for less ambitious changes and for a slower agricultural conversion. As early as 2008, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), initiated by the World Bank, urgently warned in its final report: "Business as usual is not an option“. But the IAASTD‘s warning was not followed by corresponding action. As a result, ten valuable years for the transformation of agriculture were lost until the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in May 2019 presented its Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which strongly reiterated the warning that "business as usual is not an option“. A few months later, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented its report on the link between land use and greenhouse gas emissions. Both UN bodies, IPBES and IPCC, warned urgently that the window of opportunity for taking measures to avert the imminent collapse of the world's climate and ecosystems would be closing very soon.
Since past decision-makers did not “hear” the message and failed to act, we simply cannot wait any longer. Our generation is the last to still have the power to take effective action to halt biodiversity loss and climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if we do not act now, we risk passing the point of no return in ten years' time.
Is the collapse of biodiversity caused exclusively by pesticides?
Indeed, there are many factors that contribute to species‘ extinction. The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) 2019 report has made this clear. The main causes mentioned are namely land use change, pollution, climate change and the proliferation of invasive species, where land use change and related air, water and soil pollution are caused by agriculture, forestry and urbanisation, with 71% of the total land available being used for agriculture and forestry.
The use of synthetic pesticides is a two-fold driver of species‘ extinction: an immediate harmful effect of pesticide use results from pesticides‘ toxicity to insects, birds, amphibians, as well as soil and aquatic organisms. In addition, pesticides have enabled a model of intensive farming that heavily relies on intensive monocultures which leave no room for the existence of species diversity (agrobiodiversity). In other words, the continuous intensification of chemical pest control since the 1960s has made the use and consideration of natural biological mechanisms for pest control - such as the provision of habitats and ecological niches for beneficial insects, or the use of resistant crop varieties - seem obsolete, while the provisions listed above are key to pesticide-free agriculture. In order to restore these natural ecosystems and to enable species diversity in agricultural land, it is indispensable to implement pesticide-free practices in our agricultural system. Fortunately, evidence shows that biodiversity recovery can happen relatively quickly when measures are taken to restore habitats in parallel to abandoning the use of synthetic pesticides.
So will we have to plough with horses again in the future and weed fields by hand?
No, this image is very often raised by the pesticide industry to frighten farmers and citizens. The fact that a future biodiversity-compatible agriculture can do without synthetic pesticides does not mean that it should not take advantage of the incredible amount of scientific knowledge and technological innovations that are available today.
As the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report already stated in 2008, the decisive factor in combating hunger globally is not the maximisation of productivity, but the availability of food and its means of production locally. The best guarantees for this are smallholder structures with their ecological and social benefits.
Recent technological developments, such as the switch from heavy machines to light, energy-autonomous, self-driving agricultural robots, are promising. Such technological advances could, for example, enable mechanical weed monitoring to ensure a controlled balance between crops and other plants, thus maintaining an ecological diversity of beneficial insects to contain pests within the crop.
Do you believe that farmers support the idea of banning pesticides?
Contrary to messages by the pesticide industry or spokespersons from major farmers‘ unions, there is a wide diversity of thought among the farming community. While large farmer associations have so far persistently defended the agro-industrial system and consistently combated pesticide restrictions, a growing number of smaller interest groups and farmers see dependence on the agro-industry (synthetic pesticides, seeds and fertilizers producers) and its products as a driving force behind the crisis into which farms and the ecosystem have fallen. For us organisers of the citizens' initiative, it will therefore be decisive whether we succeed in showing the prospects for change and convincing farmers not only that agriculture without pesticides is possible, but also that in the long term it is the best option. We therefore want to use the coming year not only to collect signatures for our citizens' initiative but also to enter into dialogue with farmers and their representative bodies.
But won't food prices in Europe become more expensive if farmers are forced to make use of alternative crop protection measures?
The highest price we can ever pay for our food is the devastation of our livelihoods and the livelihoods of our children and grandchildren. But it is precisely this price that we are currently paying worldwide when we buy unsustainably produced, cheap food. Our current way of farming threatens the world's food supply, as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated in a comprehensive report on the state of agriculture and biodiversity in February 2019. The reason why we still buy food at this low price is that the real price does not appear at the supermarket checkout. We pay it through burning forests, polluting water, eroding soil, contaminating the air we breath and finding chemical residues in our food. Pesticides, as well as low-quality food, have important health impacts that involve important societal costs (cancers, Parkinson diseases, reproductive impairment, etc).
We must therefore put an end to this disastrous system. Farmers that produce food sustainably should be rewarded, while imported food produced with synthetic pesticides should be heavily taxed.
Furthermore, farmers generally do not earn a decent living in the EU despite the fact they are caring for producing the food that is at the very basis of our health.
Decision-makers shall ensure that farmers earn decent revenues, while maintaining food at affordable prices.
Why do the central demands of the citizens' initiative only include a ban on the use of pesticides in the EU but not a ban on imports of goods produced using pesticides?
In fact, that is one of our demands! In the Annex to our ECI we state that accompanying measures are necessary to ensure that pesticide-free food produced in Europe does not become subject to competition from cheap food from third countries produced using pesticides.
This can be guaranteed in a diversity of ways, either by a general ban on food that is not certified as produced without synthetic pesticides, or even a correspondingly high taxation and/or the subsidisation of European products that have been produced in a biodiversity-friendly way. It is clear that such measures are indispensable for the protection of European agriculture. At the same time, it is to be expected that such a trade policy can send out positive steering effects for a system change in other parts of the world. However, as this affects international trade agreements, and these cannot be subject to ECIs, this demand is (only) listed in the ECI Annex, and therefore does not formally belong to its central demands. But one thing is clear to us: we will all have to deal with this political question, because transformation can only happen if unfair competition from products that do not meet similar ecological standards can be excluded.
Without pesticides, how can we ensure the nutrition of over nine billion people?
An answer to the question of how to feed a world population that will have grown to a projected 9 billion by 2050 was provided about ten years ago by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). Its key recommendations included improving agro-ecological and low-input farming methods, plant breeding for better climate, temperature and pest resistance, as well as compensation for environmental services and reducing dependency on fossil fuels. What you will not find in the report, however, are recommendations to use pesticides in order to secure the world's food supply. On the contrary, the IAASTD recommends the replacement of agrochemicals by biocontrol. The claim that pesticides are necessary to secure the world's food supply is therefore nothing more than the narrative of large agrochemical groups, which earn billions of euros from the sale of pesticides. There is no scientific evidence to support such claim, it is just a myth.
How are farmers supposed to make the transition to pesticide-free production in 15 years?
Over the last decades, the development of organic farming and the implementation of agroecology has clearly proven that farming without pesticides is a very real option. It is knowledge-intensive and requires adaptation from farmers.
It is important to advise and support farmers in their transition. To achieve this, the necessary economic framework conditions must be created.
In some cases, further research on agro-ecological methods must also be promoted through public resources released by the renunciation of investments in agrichemicals.
Over the past decades, billions of euros of public and private funds have been invested in the development, manufacturing and regulation of synthetic pesticides and in countering the negative environmental and health effects they have caused.
In the future, public resources ought to fund research in agroecology to improve production while respecting the environment. Research results must then quickly reach farmers and help them to improve their practices.
Can we afford the "luxury" of not using pesticides at all in view of the upcoming challenges posed by climate change?
In view of climate change, abandoning the agricultural model based on intensive agrochemicals use is key for the future of our production. Climate change will confront agriculture with unprecedented weather extremes and increased pest pressure. It is precisely in view of these challenges that it is all the more important to ensure the necessary resilience through agroecosystems that are as strong and resilient as possible with a corresponding species diversity. For instance, agroecological production methods are less susceptible to droughts as soils with high rates of carbon store more water. They also support humus formation in the soil and remove CO2 from the atmosphere. This is particularly important because in order to meet the IPCC's 1.5 degree target, it will be necessary for CO2 emissions from food production to become negative worldwide. This means more CO2 from the atmosphere going into the soil and contributing to humus formation, than is emitted in total by agricultural processes (this performance could be compensated, for example, by remuneration).
Will genetic engineering help to eliminate pesticides?
The United Nations’ IAASTD report already stated that „green genetic engineering“ has so far created more problems than solutions and has one-sidedly directed research interest towards patentable products.
The vast majority of GMO varieties that are sold today are either resistant to a pesticide, and thus lead to more pesticide use in the field, or they are genetically modified to produce pesticides themselves and thus put ecosystems in danger! Our citizens' initiative for the protection of biodiversity and smallholder farms explicitly calls for the promotion of independent, rural training and research in the field of pesticide- and GM-free agriculture. It is undisputed, therefore, that the breeding and selection of seeds should be promoted and expanded using conventional breeding techniques.
How can I support the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) as a private person or organisation/association?
There are many possibilities. You can support the ECI:
A. by signing the the ECI now on this website.
B. by telling your family, friends and colleagues about our ECI and its goals. This is very important since we will only achieve the necessary system change if a sufficiently large amount of people recognise the urgency of the current crisis and the dire need for rapid action to counter it.
C. by sharing our content on social media. You can also print out signature forms, collect signatures from relatives and send the signed forms to us by post (you will find the address on the forms).
D. by supporting the work of "Save Bees and Farmers" with a donation.