Political Hotspot – November 2022

The legislative process of revising the EU’s pesticide legislation, the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation (SUR), is full of hurdles, put up by some Member States and political groups at the European Parliament. 

The battle between agriculture & environment 

Following publication of the Commission’s 22 June 2022 proposal, an intra-Parliamentary battle started between the Committee on Environment (COMENVI) and the one on Agriculture (COMAGRI) over competencies. As pesticides have direct effects on the environment, COMENVI should get the lead. Austrian Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Sarah Wiener (Greens/EFA) was nominated rapporteur for COMENVI, and her report was initially expected before the winter break.  

But COMAGRI requested some competencies over the file as well. Last week, COMAGRI nominated their own rapporteur, Spanish MEP Clara Aguilera (Socialists & Democrats), for their opinion. The Conference of Committee Chairs and the Presidents of the political groups have to take a final decision on the respective competencies of the two committees in the coming days. 

This dispute between committees has now prevented the start of the negotiations within the European Parliament for more than two months, and is part of the delay tactics which Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from the EPP group seem favouring against this proposal on pesticides reductions. 

MEPs from the European Political Party (EPP), led by German MEP Norbert Lins and Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann, expressed their opposition to the SUR reform and even asked the European Commission to withdraw its proposal. They claim that the 50% target of pesticide use reduction, set in the Farm to Fork Strategy, would lead the EU to food insecurity because the efficiency of pest management would decrease, leading to yield reduction. Such claims are exaggerated and synthetic pesticides are harmful for the environment, biodiversity as well as the quality of water, soil and air. We need farming systems that protect the natural resources on which we depend to produce food in the long-term.  

Unwillingness among (some) EU countries to cut down on pesticides 

There does not seem to be more enthusiasm to reduce harmful pesticides on the Council side. A group of eighteen Member States voiced their concerns on the SUR reform, and asked the European Commission to launch a second impact assessment to analyse the consequences of pesticide use reduction on food security – claiming it is at risk in the EU because of the war in Ukraine.  

NGOs: Don’t delay adoption of the SUR, existing practices can deliver! 

To counter this narrative that environmental action endangers food security, a coalition of 32 organisations including the European organic movement, beekeepers, biocontrol manufacturers and environmental NGOs joined forces in a letter sent on 10 November. The letter addresses Ministers of Agriculture, Environment and Health, as well as to MEPs in COMAGRI and COMENVI and the President of the Parliament.  

This wide group of civil society organisations calls on policymakers: “We urge Agriculture, Health and Environment Ministers and Members of the European Parliament not to call for further delays in the adoption of the SUR, and to work towards achieving an ambitious SUR”. Moreover, they also remind them that existing farming practises, like organic and other agroecological practices, already implement preventive and indirect methods to manage pests and diseases, (and use natural and biocontrol substances as a last resort for certain crops).  

What comes up and what do we do? 

The next steps of this pesticide regulation reform are: 

  • A discussion between Member States during the next AGRIFISH Council (meeting of Agricultural Ministers) on 12-13 December; 
  • The publication of the two Parliamentary Committees’ report, likely early 2023.  

We do not expect the European Parliament’s Plenary to vote on the reform of the pesticides regulation before April 2023 – at the earliest.  

As IFOAM Organics Europe, we are meeting weekly with MEPs and their teams to highlight the need and feasibility to reduce the use of synthetic pesticides. Together with NGOs, we also highlight the issues identified with regards to the Harmonized Risk Indicator (HRI-1) the Commission chose to measure pesticides use reduction, which shows limitations in its methodology and discriminates against natural substances. 

Read more about our work on plant health care on our website

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