Tuesday, 08 February 2022 10:16

Commission’s leaked plans on integrated pest management slammed as too weak

A draft revision of the EU’s pesticide framework, obtained by EURACTIV, sets out multi-pronged plans to address shortcomings on integrated pest management (IPM), but campaign groups say these still fall short of what is needed to transform the sector.

The proposed revision of the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive (SUD), currently earmarked for 23 March 2022, aims to bring it in line with the objectives of the European Green Deal, which includes the ambition to slash in half the use and risk of chemical pesticides in its flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy.

A leaked draft of the revision of the EU’s pesticide framework, obtained by EURACTIV, emphasises the need to up the EU’s game when it comes to the implementation of integrated pest management (IPM).

IPM is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on the long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques applied in an order of hierarchy in a way that minimises the use of chemical plant protection products to the greatest extent possible.

Although applying IPM principles is already a mandatory part of the SUD, actions on IPM have been slow and support sorely lacking, according to the EU court of auditors, who concluded in February 2020 that there has been limited progress in measuring and reducing the associated risks.

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The European Commission has been unable to adequately measure and reduce either the effects or the risks from pesticides due to a lack of rigorous and suitable data, according to a new report from the European Court of Auditors, released on Wednesday (5 January).

The criticism is acknowledged in the draft proposal, which agrees that there have been “significant shortcomings in the implementation, application and enforcement” of the SUD directive, including on IPM.

To address this and provide legal clarity for all users, the draft sets out a multi-pronged attack, starting with the need for the general principles of IPM to be set out in a “clearer manner and the concepts relating to its application should be defined as precisely as possible.”

This includes a requirement for each member state to establish ‘crop-specific’ rules, or adopt crop-specific rules established elsewhere, to implement integrated pest management for a combination of crops covering an area that accounts for “at least 90% of its utilisable agricultural area”.

EU countries will be able to determine the geographic scope of those rules, taking account of relevant agronomic conditions, including the type of soil, crops, and prevailing climatic conditions, the draft specifies.

Electronic records

The proposal also emphasises the need for professional users to keep an electronic record, known as an IPM register, of the reasons behind the application of any plant protection products, as well as of advice received in support of their implementation of integrated pest management by independent advisers.

This register will also be used to monitor the establishment and use of independent advisory services.

Together with additional training for distributors, advisers, and professional users of plant protection products, this will ensure operators are “fully aware” of the potential risks to human health and the environment and up to date on the latest measures to reduce those risks as much as possible.

Member states will be expected to report information gathered through this monitoring annually to the Commission, which the Commission will corroborate with its own audits.

LEAK: Commission to propose EU-binding reduction targets for pesticides

The European Commission plans to set an EU-binding 50% pesticide reduction target by 2030 but leave member states free to set their own national targets, according to a leaked proposal to revise the EU’s pesticide framework obtained by EURACTIV.

Too little, too late?

The plan won praise from industry players, including Croplife Europe, which represents Europe’s crop protection industry, who told EURACTIV they were pleased to see the Commission’s recognition that IPM strategies should be defined locally and voiced “full support” for the ambition to improve reporting on IPM implementation.

“An IPM register could benefit EU growers by further helping share experiences and showcasing the reality of protecting crops today in Europe,” a representative from the association said.

However, the leaked draft was heavily criticised by campaign group Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe for showing a “strong lack of ambition”.

“The basics of IPM are not made mandatory and synthetic pesticides remain at the centre of agricultural practices,” Martin Dermine, health and environment policy officer at PAN Europe, pointed out.

The group reserved particular criticism for the fact that basic and cost-effective principles, such as long-term crop rotation, use of resistant varieties, or mechanical weeding, are not mandatory.

“The European Commission misses here a unique opportunity to set a series of principles to put our agriculture on a virtuous path and move away from pesticides,” Dermine said.

Meanwhile, Slow Food Europe added criticism for the fact that there is no budget allocated to encouraging the uptake of IPM, something they say should be the “bare minimum”.