Organic farming: EU sends mixed signals on pesticide usage

If ever there was a case of mixed signals being sent to farmers, then the EU and its attitude to pesticides is it.

There are, it seems, two contradictory pathways facing food producers.

On the one hand, Europe is imposing restrictions on the use of pesticides, herbicides and other agri-industrial inputs. The partial neonicotinoid ban and the glyphosate licence renewal debacle exemplify this.

On the other hand, spurred on by globalisation in general as well as by TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) in particular, pesticide restrictions are being lessened.

TTIP is a potential agreement, currently in negotiations between the EU and US, which is supposedly about easing trade between the two areas.

However, revelation after revelation shows how the EU is moving away from the precautionary principle and towards the US so-called chemical risk model of regulation of pesticides and other substances.

A 2015 reports from the Center for International Environmental Law found that 82 pesticides currently in use in the US, and banned in the EU, could be allowed in the EU post-TTIP.

These pesticides are “carcinogens, endocrine (or hormone) disruptors, developmental toxins and other extremely hazardous substances” their Lowest Common Denominator report revealed.

Also last year, it emerged that, following pressure from US trade officials, plans were shelved to regulate 31 endocrine-disrupting pesticides. — a news agency based in Brussels — has revealed that the EU Commission changed its work plan on endocrine disruptors (EDs), not because of the “complexity” of the operation, as Jean Claude Junker claimed.

Rather, “the endocrine strategy was blocked because of lobbying by the cosmetics industry” a senior EU official told the media outlet.

In 2014, the commission’s workplan clearly signposted the option of moving towards risk over precaution.

And just last week, the European Commission finally announced its classification system for endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

The Endocrine Society of Scientists, and a former chief author on EDs for the commission, Prof Andreas Kortenkamp, described it as “a total reversal of the intention of the regulation…the worst of all the possible outcomes.

"Risk assessments are precisely what industry has lobbied for, and the commission has given it to them” the Guardian reported.

So what are the options and alternatives to the pesticides in dispute? Is there another way?

In a letter by a group of MEPs to the commission, due to be published soon, and seen by this columnist, a roadmap for a different way to grow food is outlined.

The context for this letter is the Glyphosate debacle, and the EU’s inability to reach anything approaching consensus on re-approval or otherwise of the substance, which was due at the end of this month.

The letter describes the need for a transition to sustainable food production, including sustainable protection and nutrition of crops.

Importantly, the letter also outlines what is a roadmap to agro-ecology — in other words, a path for producers to jump off the pesticide treadmill and into a different way of producing.

This roadmap describes in some detail how each of the following seven key initiatives could help farmers produce sufficient yields without externalising (ie, passing on to the citizen and environment) some many of the costs of producing.

Pesticides roadmap

1. The use of non-chemical techniques as alternatives to herbicide use;

2. Letting beneficial species do their work: IPM (Integrated Pest Management) and cascade approach, chemicals as last resort;

3. Advice and extension services, and exchange of farming knowledge;

4. Funding the transition via the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP);

5. Coherence with EU biodiversity and climate change policy;

6. Increased ecosystem functioning means greater input autonomy for farmers;

7. A paradigm shift which is underpinned by science: Agroecology.

And it is the first of these — alternatives to ‘chemical’ herbicide use — which we will deal with in the next two weeks in this column.

This will include very practical examples of on farm techniques, and, in particular, innovations in machinery such as the Garford Robocrop, System Cameleon and the JCS Combicut.


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