Farm to Fork: New rules to reduce the risk and use of pesticides in the EU

(Source: European Commission)

What has been proposed today and what are the next steps?

The Commission has proposed new rules to reduce the use and risk of pesticides in the EU, delivering on the Farm to Fork Strategy objective of a fair, healthy and environmentally respectful food system.

They introduce:

  • Legally binding targets: binding EU-level targets to reduce by 50% the use and risk of chemical pesticides and the use of the more hazardous pesticides by 2030. Member States will have to set their own reduction targets within clearly defined parameters as well as their own strategies to ensure that the EU wide target is achieved collectively.
  • Strict new rules to enforce environmentally friendly pest control: a comprehensive new enforcement framework to ensure that all farmers practice Integrated Pest Management ‘IPM’, in which all alternative methods of pest control are considered first, before chemical pesticides can be used as a last resort measure.
  • A ban on the use of all pesticides in sensitive areas: the use of all pesticides is prohibited in sensitive areas (and within 3 metres of these areas), such as public parks or gardens, playgrounds, recreation or sports grounds, public paths, as well as ecologically sensitive areas
  • Exceptional EU support: Farmers will be supported by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in this transition: for 5 years, Member States can use the CAP to cover the costs of the new requirements for farmers.

The new rules will be laid down in a Regulation, which is directly binding on all Member States.

Why are you proposing these new rules?

These rules translate our commitment to halt biodiversity loss in Europe into action, to protect health, to help build sustainable food systems in line with the European Green Deal and to ensure lasting food security. They are a recognition that tackling climate and environmental-related challenges is this generation’s defining task.

Scientists and citizens are increasingly concerned about the use of pesticides and the build-up of their residues and metabolites in the environment. In the final report of the Conference on the Future of Europe citizens specifically requested to address the use and risk of pesticides.

The existing rules on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive (SUD)have proven to be too weak and have been unevenly implemented. The recent SUD evaluation, as well as conclusions of Reports from the Court of Auditors and the European Parliament, showed that there was insufficient progress in reducing the risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment. They also noted insufficient progress in promoting the use of Integrated Pest Management and alternative approaches or techniques, such as non-chemical alternatives to pesticides, in part, because already now chemical pesticides can harm human health and continue to contribute to biodiversity decline in agricultural areas, contaminate the air, the water and the wider environment:

  • There are major risks to the health of citizens linked to the use of chemical pesticides, especially for those persons using them but also for vulnerable groups and children. Pesticides can cause both acute and long-term health impacts. Chemical pesticides can have dermatological, gastrointestinal, neurological, carcinogenic, respiratory, reproductive, and endocrine effects. High occupational, accidental, or intentional exposure to pesticides can result in hospitalisation and death. Already in 1990, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that about one million cases of unintentional pesticide poisonings occur annually, leading to approximately 20,000 deaths. A recent review estimates that about 385 million cases of unintentional acute pesticide poisonings occur annually world-wide including around 11,000 fatalities.
  • Each year between 2013 and 2019, pesticides were detected above their effect threshold at between 13 to 30% of all surface water monitoring sites of European rivers and lakes.

In agricultural areas, the use of some chemical pesticides contribute to the decline of pollinators which are necessary to feed a growing world population. 75% of global food crop types rely on animal pollination and 50% of land in the EU cultivated with crops dependent on pollinators already faces a pollination deficit. In the EU, up to almost €15 billion of the EU’s annual agricultural output is directly attributed to insect pollinators. 10% of bee and butterfly species in Europe are on the verge of extinction, and 33% of them are in decline.

Reducing our dependence on chemical pesticides is therefore a key part of the process of building more resilient, sustainable food systems for 2030 and beyond. In case of inaction, the outlook for all environmental indicators is bleak with further declines in biodiversity according to reports by the European Environment Agency, the EU Ecosystems Assessment and researchers. The EU Group of Chief Scientific Advisers already concluded in 2020 that, although the EU food system has achieved high levels of food security, food safety and a wide consumer choice, it is not sustainable with respect to environmental, economic and social aspects. Continuing ‘business as usual’ will significantly endanger natural resources, our health, the climate, and the economy.

This does not mean that pesticides are not needed.  There are cases where satisfactory pest control can only be achieved in commercial food production through the use of chemical pesticides. However, chemical pesticides should be used only as a last resort. This is the key principle of Integrated Pest Management which will be better implemented  by this proposal. Climate change will also accelerate the spread of pests and lead to the emergence of new pests. The new rules will reduce the use of chemical pesticides while at the same time continue ensuring that they are available when all other control tools have been exhausted.

Will using less pesticides harm food security?

On the contrary. The aim of the Farm to Fork Strategy, where the target to reduce chemical pesticide use was first announced, steers the transition to more sustainable farming practices. By reducing pesticides, we protect biodiversity and the health of our citizens, nature and pollinators. These are indispensable to maintain food production and security in the long term. Continued declines in biodiversity, ecosystem services and pollinator species, as we are already witnessing now, pose direct threats to food security.

There are numerous examples and studies showing that farmers can reduce pesticide use and save money without jeopardising crop yields or quality. Precision farming techniques such as modifying the flow rate from spraying nozzles in vineyards for example has allowed to use 58% less pesticide spray volume compared to constant rate applications. Using spraying nozzles of varying flow and weed sensors allowed average herbicide savings of 22.8% and 27.9% in cereals and peas respectively. The reduction in herbicides applied in the EU when using such variable rate pesticide application technology has been estimated at up to 30,000 tonnes. Another study commissioned by the European Parliament showed that existing precision agriculture can contribute a 10-20% reduction in pesticide use without affecting yields or incurring additional costs.

As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as prolonged droughts and climate impacts in other areas of the world, there currently are risks to global food security. The Commission has already presented in March this year, a range of short-term and medium-term actions to enhance global food security and to support farmers and consumers in the EU in light of rising food prices and input costs, such as energy and fertilisers. The surge in global commodity prices, exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, highlights again the need for EU agriculture and food supply chains to become more resilient and sustainable, in line with the Farm to Fork strategy.

The changes introduced by the new rules will be gradual, therefore minimising any impact on food security. Moreover, for 5 years, Member States can use the Common Agricultural Policy to cover the costs of the new requirements for farmers. This can compensate for any additional costs and prevent price increases in food.

What are the targets to reduce the use of pesticides and how will they be achieved?

The new rules set out binding EU-level targets to reduce the use and risk of chemical pesticides and to reduce the use of the more hazardous pesticides by 50%. By doing so, it translates in tangible action the commitments laid down in the Farm to Fork Strategy.

The new rules stipulate that Member State must adopt binding targets to help meet the overall EU target. When setting these national targets, Member States have the flexibility to take into account their national situation, including historical progress and the intensity of pesticide use. This must be done within the parameters of a legally defined mathematical formula.  While allowing for the national situation to steer target setting, in no case may the national target be lower than 35%, to ensure all Member States reduce the use of pesticides. After reviewing the Member State targets, the Commission may recommend Member States to establish more ambitious targets in certain cases. The Commission may also take further measures in case the national targets are deemed insufficient to reach the 50% reduction collectively at EU level by 2030. Each year, the Commission will publish trends towards meeting the EU’s 2030 reduction targets.

Progress towards reaching the targets can be achieved by making use of a range of actions which will help reducing the use of chemical pesticides:

  • Removing more hazardous pesticides from the market;
  • Development and more widespread use of alternative pest control techniques in line with Integrated Pest Management, including in particular biological pesticides such as micro-organisms;
  • Support from CAP for investments, advice as well as through area payments
  • Increase in organic farming;
  • Precision agriculture and use of new technologies.

How does the Commission calculate the reduction in the use and risk of pesticides? And the more hazardous pesticides?

The use and risk of chemical pesticides will be measured on a yearly basis using data on the sales of plant protection products (PPPs) reported by Members States to the Commission.

The baseline for the calculation of the 50% reduction will be the average sales of 2015, 2016 and 2017, the three most recent years for which data were available at the announcement of the Farm to Fork Strategy

All active substances placed on the market in the form of PPPs are allocated to one of four groups and a weighting allocated to each of the groups – higher weightings are given to more hazardous groups[1].

The weightings are intended to encourage the use of PPPs containing low-risk active substances (many of which are non-chemical substances) and to discourage the use of PPPs containing more hazardous substances (in particular, non-approved substances used via time-limited nationally approved emergency authorisations).

The use of more hazardous pesticides will also be measured using data on the sales of plant protection products (PPPs) reported by Member States to the Commission. However, in this case no weightings are necessary, as all are in the same group.

Building on the recently reached provisional agreement on the new rules on agricultural statistics (SAIO), the Commission will evaluate the current methodology and may put forward a new one.

More Information

Privacy Preferences
When you visit our website, it may store information through your browser from specific services, usually in form of cookies. Here you can change your privacy preferences. Please note that blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience on our website and the services we offer.