The EU framework for the sustainable use of pesticides
Against the backdrop of increasing societal concerns around the impact of pesticide use on human health and on the environment, the Directive on the sustainable use of pesticides (SUD) (Directive 2009/128/EC) aims to achieve the reduction of the risks and impacts of pesticide use, and the promotion of the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and of alternative approaches or techniques, such as non-chemical alternatives to pesticides. EU countries have drawn up National Action Plans to implement the range of actions set out in the Directive. The main actions relate to training of users, advisors and distributors of pesticides, inspection of pesticide application equipment, the prohibition of aerial spraying, limitation of pesticide use in sensitive areas, and information and awareness raising about pesticide risks.
The SUD provides for a range of actions aiming to achieve a sustainable use of pesticides by reducing the risks and impacts of their use on human health and the environment. One of its key elements is the implementation of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and the promotion of alternative approaches or techniques, so to reduce dependency on pesticides and increase the uptake the low risk and non-chemical pesticides. In this respect, the SUD synergies with the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which encompasses several instruments supporting the implementation of IPM. The SUD is largely based on actions to be taken at Member State level, given the variation in agricultural practices across the EU. It requires Member States to produce National Action Plans (NAPs) setting out their quantitative objectives, targets, measures and timetables.
This practice is directly linked to the EU action towards SDG 2 as it contributes to ending hunger and malnutrition and to ensuring access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. In particular, it delivers on SDG 2.4 as it promotes sustainable food production systems and implements resilient agricultural practices such as integrated pest management and organic farming. The SUD objectives also contribute to the EU delivering on SDG 12.4 on minimizing adverse impacts from chemicals on human health and the environment through reduced use and risk of chemical pesticides. Whilst it covers agriculture, it also contributes to the protection of the environment and of waters, as well as of sensitive areas, including urban ones.
The implementation of the SUD is largely based on actions to be taken at EU Member State level. Member States are required to produce National Action Plans (NAPs) setting out quantitative objectives, targets, measures and timetables. The European Commission assisted Member States though sereval actions, including: • Fact finding missions to a number of Member States in 2017 to collect informtion on implementation; • Commission audits in four Member States in 2018 and in seven Member States in 2019 and to one Member State in 2020 to investigate the overall progresses; • Responses to a letter from the Commission to four Member States in October 2018 further clarifying specific weaknesses in their initial NAPs; • Responses of 24 Member States to a Commission survey in December 2018 on the reviews of their initial NAPs, • Biannual SUD Working Group meetings organised by the Commission, and a specific IPM Workshop in 2019; • BTSF trainings on IPM implementation at farm level as well as on pesticide application equipment since 2017 (ongoing) for Member States’ officials, but also agricultural advisors and researchers. The Commission's dedicated SUD web-portal hosts all NAPs, both initial and revised. All audit reports are also available. As regards monitoring, Member States are to set targets and indicators in their NAPs in order to measure implementation at national level. This is verified by the Commission during audits. At EU level, the European Commission - together with EU Member states - established two Harmonised Risk Indicators (HRI 1 and 2), which have been published for the second time in 2020.
Designed to show the evolution in the risks linked to human health and the environment from pesticide use, the SUD Harmonised Risk Indicators represent a significant output of the practice. The European Commission is obliged to calculate and publish the HRIs at EU level, while each Member State is obliged to calculate and publish the Harmonised Risk Indicators at national level. Member States must also identify trends in the use of certain active substances, and identify priority items or good practices. There are currently two Harmonised Risk Indicators. The Commission plans to extend the number of Harmonised Risk Indicators in the future. Moreover, the HRI1 methodology will be used to establish an indicator specifically devoted to measure progresses towards the achievement of the F2F pesticide targets. The HRI 1 is also on the list of policy targets for EU SDG monitoring 2021 (SDG 2). The HRIs allow to monitor the results of the SUD implementation. The two Indicators are published annually. At EU level, based on HRI 1, the risk resulting from pesticide use has already shown a downward trend (-17%) for the period 2011-2018. Publication of the trends for the F2F pesticide indicators are planned in 2021 (for the first time and thereafter annually), in addition to the already published trends on HRIs. These trends are expected to also cross-fertilise the implementation of other policies, such as the Common Agricultural Policy, by Member States in the next decade.
Implementation of SUD is in the hand of the EU Member States. It has been slow in the beginning, as several of the latter incurred in delays in transposing the Directive into national law. Since 2016, however, the Commission has taken increased action to support implementation. Societal awareness has been growing around the sustainability of food production, of which the sustainable use of pesticides is an important component, as reflected in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the European Commission's Reflection Paper "Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030". This awareness manifested itself in a 2017 European Citizens Initiative calling on the Commission to inter alia set European Union-wide mandatory reduction targets for pesticide use. The 2020 Farm to Fork Strategy acknowledges the negative effects chemical pesticides can have on the environment and human health and establishes ambious pesticide reduction targets to be achieved by 2030. Against this background, the SUD moved up on the EU’s political agenda and the concrete pesticide reduction targets formulatd in the Farm to Fork Strategy are being now widely discussed in Europe. This further increases stakholders’s expectations to see these targets reflected across the policy board and in various programmes, e.g. in the the National Strategic Plans under the Common Agricultural Polcy.
At EU internal level, the European Commission has recently lauched the evaluation of the sustainable use of pesticides directive with a view to a possible revision. This process will help to understand what measures – if any - are needed to further improve the implementation of the SUD and what economic, environmental and social impacts can be expected. An assessment of whether legally binding pesticide targests should be incorporated in the revised SUD will also be carried out. The utlimate goal is to ensure the continuous relevance of the EU framework for the sustainable use of pesticides with a view to its contribution to achieving the Farm to Fork pesticide targets in 2030 and, at the same time, several SDGs targets, in particular 2.4 and 12.4. On a global note, the EU will suild on the SUD practice to support the global transition to sustainable agri-food systems, in line with the objectives of this Farm to Fork Strategy and the SDGs. Through its external policies, including international cooperation and trade policy, the EU will pursue the development of Green Alliances on sustainable food systems with all its partners in bilateral, regional and multilateral fora. EU trade policy in particulat should contribute to enhance cooperation with and to obtain ambitious commitments from third countries in key areas such as the use of pesticides.
The Farm to Fork Strategy advocates for all citizens and operators across the food value chains, in the EU and elsewhere, to be able to benefit from a just transition to a sustainable food system, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn. A shift to a sustainable food system can bring environmental, health and social benefits, offer economic gains and ensure that the recovery from the crisis puts us onto a sustainable path. The sustainable use of pesticides contributes to this sustainable path.
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