(Bloomberg) -- The European Union is sticking with a plan to halve the use of the pesticides by 2030 even as agriculture comes under pressure from shortages sparked by Russia’s tactics in its war against Ukraine.
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The European Commission on Wednesday proposed to use legally binding targets to reach its plan, which stops short of an overall ban on pesticides and focuses instead on organic products and other alternatives. The plan would prohibit using pesticides in public spaces and around facilities like schools and hospitals.
“We will replace chemical pesticides with safe alternatives,” Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said. “Farmers will be fully supported with unprecedented EU funding possibilities to cover the cost of the transition.”
It’s the first legislation to come out of EU’s sustainable food plan aimed at reducing agriculture’s environmental impact, and the new rules would take into account the historic progress and national pesticide use of each member state when it comes to setting national targets. The cost of the transition to new rules for farmers will be covered by the bloc for at least five years under the Common Agricultural Policy, according to the plan from the EU’s executive arm.
Governments are grappling with food prices near record highs as the war in Ukraine has disrupted trade, fueling hunger and worsening a cost-of-living crisis. The EU had delayed the pesticides directive, which was due in the first quarter. It will have to be approved by the European Parliament and member states before it comes into effect and could still be changed or weakened during the debate.
Pests and diseases reduce crop yields by 20% to 40% globally, according to CABI, a UK-based nonprofit that researches agriculture. But as insects become more resistant to pesticides, farmers use more chemicals, raising concerns about the impact on wildlife and human health. In the EU, 50% of land cultivated with crops dependent on pollinators already face a pollination deficit, according to the commission.
The US Environmental Protection Agency recently said that some commonly used insecticides are likely harmful to thousands of endangered animals and plants, while Bayer AG’s weedkiller Roundup is the subject of tens of thousands of lawsuits alleging it causes cancer, which the company denies.
Requirements to reduce fertilizer and pesticide use could cut EU wheat yields by about 15% by 2030, and flip the bloc into a net grain importer, Philippe Mitko, the president of Coceral, an association representing the agriculture trade, said last year.
EU officials have said the changes are ambitious, but they will be gradual and feasible. The bloc will provide guidance, training and support, but it will be up to the member states to set their national targets and implement them.
The plan won’t put the continent’s food production at risk, the officials insisted, noting there is no alternative to acting since the decline of pollinators caused by pesticides is a serious threat to food supplies in the longer term.
Separately, the commission adopted proposals to restore damaged ecosystems such as wetlands, rivers, forests and urban environments, by 2050 to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss. The aim is to cover at least 20% of the bloc’s land and sea areas by 2030.
(Updates with announcement starting in second paragraph)
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