Commission announces U-turn on bill to slash pesticide use in EU

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Justin Paget
© GettyImages/Justin Paget

Related tags pesticide COCERAL Copa and Cogeca farmer protests EU Commission

EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, has withdrawn a proposal designed to reduce the use of pesticides across the EU.

The Sustainable Use Regulation (SUR) had sought to cut pesticide use in the EU by 50%. Its withdrawal is seen as the first defeat of the EU Green Deal.

"The Commission proposed SUR, with the worthy aim to reduce the risks of chemical plant protection products,” von der Leyen told MEPs in a speech yesterday during a plenary at the EU Parliament. “But the SUR proposal has become a symbol of polarization.”

She said further discussions would be needed ahead of introducing a new legislative proposal on pesticide reduction.

Farmer protests

The move comes amid strident farmer protests in countries such as France, Germany, and Belgium; they have been rallying against what they perceive as non-workable EU regulations including the plan to slash pesticide use in half.

But SUR was already deemed dead in the water after being rejected by MEPs back in November ​with proponents of the bill saying then that the striking down of the draft legislation was a direct result of agro-industry lobbying efforts. 

In a joint statement today, the European association of trade in cereals, oilseeds, rice, pulses, olive oil, oils and fats, animal feed and agrosupply, COCERAL, along with the trade group for professional portside storekeepers for agribulk commodities, UNISTOCK, and the organization representing the malting industry in Europe, EUROMALT, acknowledged von der Leyen’s message in terms of depolarizing the debate on pesticides, and said they remain committed to cooperating with the EU institutions to achieve both food safety and trade openness.

“At a time of severe trade disruptions, climate change, pest pressure, and geopolitical uncertainty, it is relevant to frame the debate in a non-ideological way, considering all available methods to protect crops and related products along all stages of cultivation, storage, and transformation, to ensure food security.”

EU farmers lobby, Copa and Cogeca, said the withdrawal of the SUR proposal puts an end to an impasse. “This top-down proposal stemming from the F2F logic was poorly designed, poorly evaluated, poorly financed, and offered little alternatives to farmers. The Commission finally acknowledged that the approach was not the right one, and thereby reinforces the credibility and importance of the ongoing strategic dialogue.”

The farmer voice must be recognized in any future conversations on pesticides and on agri-related issues in general, added the Brussels based organization.

Commission seeking 'a more balanced approach'

On Tuesday, the Commission also pledged to achieve a 90% reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, compared to the levels in 2015. However, the specific requirements for the agricultural sector were lessened in the proposal.

EU Commissioner, Wopke Hoekstra, the presenter of the proposal, emphasized the importance of a balanced approach, acknowledging the need for climate protection while addressing concerns about the potential impact on people's livelihoods. "The majority of our citizens witness the effects of climate change and desire protection, yet they also express apprehension about the implications for their daily lives.”

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