BeeLife’s Input on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive

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The EU adopted the framework 2009/128/EC Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (SUDP) in 2009. This Directive specifies in article 4 that:

“Member states shall adopt National Action Plans to set up their quantitative objectives, targets, measures and timetables to reduce risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment, and to encourage the development and introduction of integrated pest management and of alternative approaches and techniques, in order to reduce dependency on the use of pesticides”.

In more concrete terms, the Directive foresees that:

  1. All farmers as from 2014 shall implement Integrated Pest Management, with article 14.1 stating: ”professional users of pesticides [ought to] switch to practices and products with the lowest risk to human health and the environment among those available for the same pest problem.” The goal is to prioritize non-chemical preventative elements, i.e. crop rotation, favour natural pest control etc.;

  2. Member States must assist this change by encouraging farmers to use non-chemical alternatives, once more in accordance with article 14 stating: ”Member states shall take all necessary measures to promote low pesticide-input pest management, giving wherever possible priority to non-chemical methods”;

  3. Member States must minimise or prohibit pesticide use in specific areas (Article 12) and establish appropriately-sized buffer zones to protect non-target aquatic organisms and safeguard zones for surface and groundwater used for the abstraction of drinking water (Article 11);

In this context, BeeLife and its members would like to contribute to the ongoing public consultation with the following points:

1. Ambition: In the context of the Green Deal, the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies, SUDP needs to be more ambitious. The Directive, that could evolve to a Regulation to further standardise the approaches of the member states, should enshrine the targets of 50% risk decline and 50% use reduction of chemical pesticides, ensuring both are separate targets. Specifically in seed and soil treatments, it should target 95% reduction for both use and risk. This is possible without economic implications for farmers in terms of production and goes fully in line with IPM principles (see Furlan L et al. 2018. An Update of the Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA) on Systemic Insecticides. Part 3: Alternatives to Systemic Insecticides. Environmental Science and Pollution Research: 1–23.). There must be a 100% reduction for the most hazardous (candidates for substitution), including substances that are POPs, PBTs and vPvB. Besides the previous substances, persistent chemicals (with DT50>60 days) should follow a stepwise removal from the market or reduction in their use.

As far as possible, pesticide spraying during the day -including any mode of action: insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, acaricides, etc.- must be avoided as soon as pollinators are present. Finally, the use of banned pesticides through emergency authorisations should be forbidden. This goes in line with the precautionary principle, gives more credibility to the system and institutions, incl. EFSA and the Commission itself, and reduces the administrative burden that the emergency authorisations creates both at the national and European levels. Member States should set a binding transition period for this reduction to happen. Three years transition period is doable for individual farmers, as similarly conducted in the transition from conventional to organic production.

2. We wonder what is the point in carrying out an “impact assessment, refin(ing) the problem definition and the policy options and feed(ing) (them) into their analysis”. It is well accepted by EU institutions, scientists and field practitioners that the problem of the Directive is the lack of implementation by the Member States.

The European Commission has already evaluated twice the level of Member States’ implementation of the SUDP (obligation under Article 4 of the SUDP). Both evaluation reports conclude that Member States are not complying with SUDP, and especially not with IPM. The Green Deal establishes the objective of 50% reduction of pesticides use by 2030. Considering this and the Commission’s own Better Regulation Guidelines that allows to avoid conducting an impact assessment in case of any political imperative to move ahead quickly, we think that an impact assessment is unnecessary and a waste of public funds.

3. The implementation of the SUDP -completely, not just some articles as is currently the case in the cross-compliance- and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) principles, i.e. avoid preventive use of pesticides, carry out pest monitoring, long-term crop rotation, etc., should be conditions to have access to public funding from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). It is of course positive that farmers become more precise in pesticide application, but what is more important is to reduce the amount of pesticides released in the environment. CAP payments need to be conditioned to the correct and effective implementation of IPM. Furthermore, the SUDP needs to apply to all farms (i.e. conventional/organic, small/medium/large, etc.), allowing National Action Plans (NAPs) to encourage the transition towards a nature-based pest management.

4. Better definition of NAPs and strengthen the control of IPM implementation. Given the diverse interpretations of what IPM is, the future regulatory framework needs to make compulsory or legally binding the implementation of at least some measures/standards like a farm record keeping compiling results of: pest monitoring, monitoring methods (e.g. pictures, trapping results, etc) and decision criteria for establishing treatment needs, and the pesticides used for the control (incl. product used, field/crop treated, amount of product used). Governments should put in place user-friendly systems so that farmers transfer this information, as the farmer assesses conditions for pest management practices or takes the decision to apply treatments.

Furthermore, the existing definition of IPM should be maintained at EU level, and it should reflect a shift in practices to agroecology and nature-based pest management, including at least 10% ecological infrastructure at each farm by 2030. A distinction should be made between natural and synthetic pesticides, and the former should be favoured.

NAPs should integrate proper indicators to monitor the level of implementation of IPM and the level of success in meeting the reduction targets (in use and risk) or the level of environmental contamination with pesticides (i.e. in water, soil or using bees as environmental samplers). In addition, indicators should monitor the uptake of IPM practices (i.e. use of non-chemical practices) (e.g. rotation, varieties, space for nature at farm level). Such indicators should be harmonized at EU level.

5. Include the obligation in NAPs of standardised data collection, analyses and communication to the public by the enforcement authorities of the SUDP. This is the only way to avoid criticisms of disruptions of the internal market and ensure transparency and accountability of public spending. Citizens have the right to know about the level of use of pesticides/biocides/medicines and compliance with IPM practices (with clear definition of IPM practices) and use/risk maps to learn about the quality of the environment they live in.

Policy enforcement needs to improve not only through better definition in the NAPs, but also through effective controls and sanctions. Enforcement authorities/bodies need to be provided with more resources for control activities. Effective sanctions need to be established for smuggling and stashing forbidden substances, as well as for the non-implementation of IPM rules. Pesticide users will be made liable for impacts on others (e.g. pesticide drift poisoning neighbouring farms/citizens, natural resources, etc) and clear procedures need to be established. In our field experience, honeybee colonies and beekeeping products get poisoned by neighbours using pesticides. Unfortunately the procedure to follow in these cases is unclear (in occasions not even the authorities know how to handle the situation), as is the possibility to identify the polluter. In addition, procedures should be established to punish the polluters of natural resources as beneficial insects, birds, mammals, water, etc. Future policy developments should establish a clear regulatory framework that applies the polluter-payer approach to the real field situation (i.e. impossibility in most of the cases to identify the source of contamination) and compensates those suffering the burden of pesticide contamination.

Finally, BeeLife strongly supports the creation and implementation of a tax on pesticide use as a practical incentive to ensure chemical reduction. The money collected from this tax should ideally be dedicated to compensate those being damaged by the pesticides, and support the control activities of enforcement authorities/bodies.

6. Find synergies with other policies to ensure implementation and transition: BeeLife defends that the CAP counts with excellent tools to ensure the transition and reduction of pesticide use and risk. We recently proposed an IPM eco-scheme that incentivises farmers to implement a good logic in pesticide use:

7. Promotion of alternatives and independent advisory services: More investment needs to be dedicated to research and innovation on alternatives to pesticides, and establish practical models for farmers defining decision criteria for pesticides use per crop or providing them with tools to ease their decision making (e.g. pest monitoring and forecasting, information in form of alerts/apps about when and how to treat, etc.)

Advisory services and pesticide users need to be trained to shift practices towards environmental intensification, having notions about ecology of beneficial insects contributing to pest control and/or pollination, toxicology of the products used in the farm, etc.

Advisory services need to be independent of those selling pesticides and NAPs need to ensure that their knowledge is up-to-date. CAP budget can fund the Farm Advisory Services.

8. One Health approach for chemicals use and risk: the future SUDP must regulate not only pesticides but also the use of biocides and veterinary and human medicines. The Commission and the EU Member States are implementing the One Health approach, which applied to environmental pollution, means that the residues of these products have the potential to pollute our habitats and have a risk to humans, animals and the environment (see Mahefarisoa KL et al. 2021. The Threat of Veterinary Medicinal Products and Biocides on Pollinators: A One Health Perspective. One Health. Elsevier: 100237). Furthermore, the use and risk of some active ingredients are artificially computed separately only because they are authorised under different regulatory frameworks, while they end up contaminating the same environment once used in real life. Future policy should acknowledge this and establish a regulatory framework that answers to real needs, and not to bureaucratic ones (i.e. dividing uses and risks of chemicals by competences).