Baking soda more dangerous than synthetic pesticides? – EU decision-makers on the brink of endorsing deceptive pesticide metrics
16 OCTOBER 2023, BRUSSELS, PARIS, BERLIN, VIENNA – As the Council opens negotiations today on ‘Targets and Indicators’ the European Citizens’ Initiative ‘Save Bees and Farmers’ and the European organic movement warn against widespread disinformation and deception of European citizens regarding progress in halving the use and risk of pesticides in the EU.
“The indicator proposed by the Commission for measuring pesticide reduction creates the illusion of pesticide reduction on paper, while pesticide use and risk in the field may even increase,” says Helmut Burtscher-Schaden, Biochemist at GLOBAL 2000 – Friends of the Earth Austria and spokesperson for ‘Save Bees and Farmers’: “This poorly designed and deceptive indicator creates massive incentives for the use of the most toxic pesticides. If adopted, bee die-offs, water pollution, and soil contamination could even increase, while EU politicians will bask in the glory of a fabricated pesticide reduction.”
Intense negotiations on pesticide reduction are happening now in European institutions. Today, Member States will discuss in a Council Working Group which indicator should be used to measure pesticide use, and a crucial vote will take place on October 24 in the European Parliament on the “Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation” (SUR). The fraudulent nature of the current method proposed by the Commission for measuring the Use Risk of Pesticides lies in conceptual errors of the indicator that served as a model: the Harmonized Risk Indicator 1 (HRI 1).
Who’s Afraid of Baking Soda?
The deceptive nature of the indicator stems from two inherent conceptual flaws, which are elaborated upon in a 5-minute video released today. Using sales figures from the Netherlands, the video demonstrates how a recent EU-wide ban of the previously most-sold pesticide led to an illusionary pesticide reduction of around 60% in just one year (from 2021 to 2022)—a reduction that, notably, exists only on paper, as the banned active substance is immediately replaced by comparable ones. The video also reveals how the flawed measurement tool calculates an 8-fold higher risk for a harmless organic pesticide (baking soda), classified as a “low-risk” substance, compared to a proven dangerous pesticide (Difenoconazole), classified as a Candidate for Substitution.
Solution Proposed by the German Federal Environment Agency
“It is hard to comprehend how such a flawed indicator could find its way into the legislative proposal for EU pesticide reduction. Fortunately, there is already a proposal that could rectify these serious flaws by incorporating existing data from the harmonized EU approval process for active substances. This was developed by experts from the German Federal Environment Agency, inspired by established pesticide indicators such as the Danish Treatment Frequency Index (TFI) and the French ‘NODU’ (Number of Unit Doses), and has been supported by the rapporteur for the SUR, MEP Sarah Wiener”, says Helmut Burtscher-Schaden.
Deceptive Indicator Undermines Farm to Fork Objectives
Correction of the conceptual errors is urgently needed because the proposed indicator creates incentives that run counter to two main objectives of the Farm to Fork Strategy; reducing pesticides and expanding organic farming. This ultimately jeopardizes the overall success of the European Green Deal.
“Organic farming has great potential to support the urgently needed transition to a more biodiversity- and climate-friendly agriculture. However, the currently proposed indicator to measure pesticides reduction misleadingly gives the impression organic agriculture is the problem rather than toxic synthetic pesticides, and will not incentivize scaling up organic”, says Eric Gall, Deputy Director of IFOAM organics europe. “As the umbrella organization for European organic farming, we have informed all Member States about this issue and proposed a solution. Now it’s up to the Agriculture Ministers in the Council to correct the flaws of the indicator accordingly.”
Together, IFOAM Organics Europe and “Save Bees and Farmers” appeal to all decision-makers in the Parliament and Council not to adopt a measurement tool that would make a mockery of the EU’s pesticide reduction plans: “The Farm to Fork Strategy and the citizens of the EU deserve a transparent and sensible indicator that provides reliable information.”
IFOAM Organics Europe
Eva Berckmans, IFOAM Organics Europe, Communications, +32 2 416 27 62, [email protected]
Maria Zintl, IFOAM Organics Europe, Policy Officer on Inputs and Organic Textiles, [email protected]
Eric Gall, IFOAM Organics Europe, Deputy Director, [email protected], +32 491 07 25 37
Are you interested to know more? Have a look at these resources.
- Policy Brief: Correcting the Farm to Fork indicator – A prerequisite for pesticide reduction in the EU (16 October 2023)
- Press release in German
- An FAQ with general background information (June 2022)
- GLOBAL 2000’s paper showing the HRI-1 systematically overestimates the risk of natural substances used in organic farming compared to synthetic substances (June 2022)
- IFOAM Organics Europe’s note (June 2022) explaining it is possible to build a better indicator on the basis of data on pesticides sales, taking into example the French indicator NODU
- Explaining the flawed pesticides indicator
- Organic’s approach to plant health care and pesticides regulation
- Video recordings of the press conference
About the organisers
The Save Bees and Farmers! European Citizens’ Initiative is a broad alliance of over 140 civil society organisations, grassroots movements, beekeepers organisations, local citizens’ initiatives, farming groups and environmental scientists. The aim of the alliance is to create an agricultural landscape in Europe which enables bees and farmers to thrive in a healthy environment for the benefit of all. The ECI “Save Bees and Farmers” was submitted to the European Commission with the support of 1,2 millions European citizens. The key demands of the ECI are: a phase out of synthetic pesticides, measures to recover biodiversity and support for farmers.
IFOAM Organics Europe is the European umbrella organisation for organic food and farming. With almost 200 members in 34 European countries, our work spans the entire organic food chain and beyond: from farmers and processors organisations, retailers, certifiers, consultants, traders and researchers to environmental and consumer advocacy bodies.
GLOBAL 2000 is an independent Austrian environmental organization and a member of Friends of the Earth, the largest international network of environmental organizations. GLOBAL 2000 closely monitors the development of environmental policy in Austria and is committed to ecological fairness and a future worth living both locally and around the globe.