Dec. 14, 2022
The European Commission’s proposal for halving the use of pesticides is still up for discussion, Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides stressed after a majority of member states called for a fresh impact study on the ramifications of such a step.
While Kyriakides stressed the importance of reducing pesticides in the name of human health and environmental protection, she said the Commission is ″fully aware of the major concerns that exist because of Russia’s war in Ukraine on issues to do with food security.″ [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]
In June, the EU executive tabled the proposal for a new Sustainable Use Regulation (SUR) that would see both the use and risk of chemical plant protection products halved by the end of the decade.
Key points, however, have proven highly contentious among almost all EU countries.
″This was never a ‘take it or leave it’ proposal,″ Kyriakides said in front of EU agriculture ministers during their meeting in Brussels on Monday (12 December), adding the Commission remains open ″to potential solutions and to finding ways forward″.
While she stressed the importance of reducing pesticides in the name of human health and environmental protection, she said the Commission is ″fully aware of the major concerns that exist because of Russia’s war in Ukraine on issues to do with food security″.
Many national governments have pointed out that the impact assessment for the Commission’s proposal was conducted before the onset of the Ukraine war and argued that the pressure the latter has put on global food markets warrants a fresh study on the impact of reducing pesticides on food security.
Call for more data on food security
On 10 December, a majority of the member states’ permanent representatives voted in favour of a decision to formally request such additional data from the Commission, as Czech minister Zdeněk Nekula confirmed during Monday’s ministers’ meeting, adding there had been ″broad consensus″ on the matter.
However, this decision still has to be confirmed by ministers, which Nekula said should happen next week. Czechia has been keen to formally seal the deal before its presidency of the EU Council of national ministers ends on 31 December.
Kyriakides promised the Commission will be ″very carefully considering″ the member states’ request for extra data once it is formalised but cautioned this should not stall progress on the legislative procedure.
Similarly, a minority of ministers pushed back against risking any delay in the adoption of the new pesticide regulation during Monday’s meeting.
″For Germany, the most important point is not to have any interruptions or delays,″ the country’s agriculture state secretary Ophelia Nick said while calling on the EU to maintain a high level of ambition during the upcoming talks.
Dutch permanent representative Michael Stibbe also said that ″we cannot allow more time to pass″ and need to ″move swiftly here and reduce the use of plant protection products″.
While the push to request a fresh impact assessment is backed by Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, Green lawmakers and environmentalists have slammed the move as no more than a filibuster meant to delay pesticide reduction efforts.
However, it is unclear whether ministers’ talks on the proposal would continue while the Commission still works on collecting the extra data that is likely to be requested.
While even several proponents of the decision to request a new study, such as Czechia and France, stressed in the meeting that talks should progress in the meantime, Polish deputy minister Krzysztof Ciecióra said that ″if we do not have the data, we cannot go forward″.
Ministers also reiterated a number of their main criticisms of the Commission’s proposal.
This includes, among other things, the method for determining national pesticide reduction targets for each EU country and the planned total ban of chemical pesticides in so-called sensitive areas, such as urban areas and sports and leisure facilities.
Another bone of contention concerns funding: While the Commission envisaged that support for farmers to reduce pesticide use should come from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), some ministers have pointed out that it will be difficult to dedicate money to this issue retroactively, after the new CAP already comes into force in January 2023.