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Responding to the European Commission’s delayed proposal for a Sustainable Use of Plant Protection Products Regulation (SUR), the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) and several health groups welcome the plan but caution that its measures will not achieve a meaningful reduction of Europe’s dependency on synthetic pesticides. More is needed in order to truly protect health and the environment from these harmful substances [1].

The EU’s pesticide framework, which was first foreseen to be published last March, was developed in line with the objectives of the bloc’s flagship Farm to Fork strategy [2]. The SUR is expected to halve the use and risk of chemical pesticides across the EU by 2030.

The new regulation will replace the 2009 Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive (SUD), upgrading the legislation from a directive to a regulation in order to ensure coherent implementation, enforcement and compliance of the policy among member states. While this upgrade is a welcome move, the proposal released today fails to put down on paper ambitious targets to transition towards an agricultural model that protects health and prevents diseases linked with exposure to harmful chemicals at the source. Examples of shortcomings include: 

  • The proposed tool to calculate the reductions in chemical pesticides is indirectly promoting rather than discouraging the use of conventional synthetic pesticides over less toxic organic ones. This is because it does not distinguish between the two and fails to take into account all the different toxicity levels [3]. 
  • An exception allows member states to start measuring pesticide reduction as early as 2011-2013 and to include all the pesticides that have been banned since the EU pesticides law came into force in 2011 in the calculations. As a result, they can lower their reduction targets to 35%.
  • Although the proposal calls for a ban on the use of chemical pesticides in areas used by the general public, including vulnerable groups, it provides too many exceptions. It even allows pesticides to be used at a distance of three metres from such areas, which is too little to secure actual protection.   

Recent scientific evidence shows that chemical pesticides continue to have negative impacts on human health and the environment [4]. 

Angeliki Lyssimachou, Senior Science Policy Officer at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), says: “While we welcome the EU Commission’s plan to reduce Europe’s pesticide dependency, the proposed targets and tools are not ambitious enough and will fail to truly protect health and the environment. We call on the European Parliament and Council to break the unhealthy status quo of our current pesticide-dependent agricultural system by correcting these shortcomings in the upcoming trilogue discussions, towards a system that promotes environmentally friendly and safer alternatives.”

Julien Guillard, Vice-President at PhytoVictimes, says: “It is a fact that the European Commission and member states have in the past authorised pesticides that are dangerous to human health. The effectiveness of personal protective equipment, often imposed on agricultural workers as a solution to exposure to harmful pesticides, is either limited or actually increases exposure levels because they invite unsafe pesticide use. The European Commission and governments must do everything in their power to protect and compensate victims suffering the consequences from exposure to toxic pesticides.”

Wendy Yared, Director at the European Cancer Leagues, says: “As cancer leagues working across Europe to prevent diseases and promote health, we believe that an ambitious SUR could provide a strong basis for the EU to deal with the considerable task of eliminating occupational cancers and contributing to the successful implementation of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. There is mounting evidence that pesticide exposure is a risk factor for certain types of cancer, including non-Hodgkin lymphomas (NHLs), multiple myeloma and prostate cancer development.”

Francesco Romizi, EU Affairs Manager at the International Society of Doctors for the Environment (ISDE) Italy, says: “Research shows that exposure to pesticides during pregnancy and childhood is strongly associated with an increased risk of leukaemia, lymphoma and brain tumours. The risk is particularly high when the mother has been exposed to pesticides in a domestic environment during gestation. Stronger legislation is needed to prohibit exposure to pesticides: health must come before private profit.”

The European Commission’s proposal will now be discussed at the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee and at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council (AGRIFISH) of the European Council.

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