Following the Nordic model on pesticides will be a good idea, Commission says
Ahead of the 20 May Farm to Fork strategy: The Members of the European Parliament, Jessica Polfjärd (EPP- Sweden), Nils Torvalds (Renew Europe – Finland) and Pernille Weiss (EPP – Denmark), and the farming organizations of Sweden, Finland and Denmark (LRF, MTK and DAFC) held an online seminar with the European Parliament to discuss the use of plant protection from a Nordic perspective on 22 April.
Find the recording and the presentations for the Webinar here.
The debate took place on Earth Day 2020 ahead of the upcoming Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, during the Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing climate challenges, in a context where the importance of a functional European agricultural sector to safeguard food security is paramount, and where the debate on sustainable pesticide use is more important than ever.
Pernille Weiss (EPP - Denmark) pointed out that parts of the European Green Deal could result in less arable land in the future; to cater for a growing world population, effective food production was consequently of increasing importance. In this regard, Weiss pointed out that Denmark was an example of a country with an agricultural production that had managed to produce more goods with less pesticides, stressing the need for EU to find a balance between economy, food supply, and the environment, where frontrunners would not get punished; Pesticides could help lowering the climate footprint. Nils Torvalds (Renew Europe – Finland) indicated that this was the right time for a pesticide debate – The Covid-19 crisis had created a new focus on food security, and raised an expectation that supply chains could be shortened in the future. Thus, Torvalds stressed the need for the EU to reform the Pesticide Directives. However, the debate on pesticides would continue for a long time, Torvalds predicted, whilst stressing the need for useful pesticide options and a stabile agricultural sector. Jessica Polfjärd (EPP – Sweden) underlined the need for more public debate on the topic; Both Polfjärd and Weiss suggested the need for MEP’s and others to listen and learn from the agricultural sector on this matter. Likewise, experts on the matter were crucial for efforts to be undertaken to lower the risks for farmers, environment, and consumers, as a ban of pesticides was not an option. The Swedish MEP acknowledged that there was still room for improvements in the usage of pesticides within the EU to which the Northern countries had been frontrunners so far, and could continue to be so.
Klaus Berend (DG SANTE, European Commission) expressed that the Northern farmers were a role model for the EU. However, it was important to consider that agricultural production was different from the north to the south and thus, one model would not fit all production types throughout the EU. If no alternatives were found, the usage of pesticides was necessary, Berend stated, and therefore, minimising the risks associated with pesticides should be prioritised; To this, the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy should provide the necessary tools to do so. Following the Nordic model will be a good idea, Berend said.
Farmer and Board member of Swedish LRF, Lennart Nillson, underlined that pesticides helped farmers secure healthy and resistant crops. However, they should be used in a responsible way. In relation to this, Nillson proposed restrictions in terms of license to operate pesticides i.e. the Northern way. Moreover, Nillson underlined that the farmers in general used pesticides in a moderate and reflected way; Costs – both environmental and economic, as well as farmers’ own health was in focus, Nillson stated.
The Danish plant protection specialist Jens Erik Jensen (SEGES) also highlighted the Nordic countries as being frontrunners on managing pesticide use, whilst stressing the importance of pesticides; Pesticides helped securing yield and quality. Pesticides played an important role in reaching climate neutrality, Jensen argued, as they helped increasing the yield on less arable land – an example from Denmark showed that by applying pesticides on wheat, the yield had been increased by 40% and the carbon footprint likewise lowered. However, there was still room for improvements within the EU – Improving agricultural practices, security measures, increasing the number of buffer-zones (securing water quality and biodiversity) as well as exploiting new application technologies were all examples of areas with room for improvement, Jensen said. However, improvements and research would take time.
Senior Policy Adviser, Henriette Christensen (Pesticide Action Network Europe) argued that the usage of pesticides could be improved; Moreover, pesticides often gave rise to opposition from consumers. However, the Nordic countries were good examples of how to manage the use of pesticides. Christensen underlined the need for more public debate, and positive stories on pesticide use and agriculture in general to highlight the sectors’ hard work and contributions as well as the need for bringing out more evidence based facts.
The European Commission has presented the European Green Deal in December 2019, its proposal for EU Climate Law on 4 March and is about to present the Farm to Fork Strategy on 20 May. The aim is to reach climate neutrality by 2050 and to transform our food systems to become more sustainable in order to reach the goals in the Green Deal strategy.
The purpose of this webinar was to get a better understanding of why, what and how the use of plant protection influences sustainable agriculture, the environment and the consumers in the EU, and what options and alternatives there are for the future.