Copy of 71 factsheet 1

On 6 February 2024, the European Commission announced the withdrawal of the proposal for the EU Pesticide Reduction (Sustainable Use Regulation) (SUR), which had a central goal to halve the use and risk of pesticides in the EU by 2030. At the same time, the European Parliament just adopted, by a small margin, a proposal on the deregulation of new genomic techniques. Earlier in the year, it also became clear that the proposal for the Sustainable Food system law has been withdrawn from the European Commission work programme for 2024, thus effectively also shutting the initiative down for now. Effectively, this means that what is currently left on the negotiating table are technological solutions, i.e. new genomic techniques. 

With this statement, the Sprint project consortium would like to emphasize the continued and urgent need to reduce the use of and risk from synthetic pesticides, based on our findings:

  • A wide range of pesticides was detected in air, soil, water and also in homes near agricultural fields in different crop types in ten EU countries;
  • Analysis of blood, urine and faeces from 10 EU countries showed that pesticide residues are taken up via dietary and non-dietary exposure routes;
  • There is a concern regarding the potential impact of co-occurrence of pesticides in human and environmental matrices.

Farmers have to transition away from synthetic pesticides for their own health, longer term economic viability, and to increase resilience of their production. However,  they need support to help them make this transition. 

Our research confirms that the difficulties faced by farmers now are very much linked to the wider systemic lock-in in which agriculture and food systems find themselves in. At the heart of this lock-in is the industrial model of food supply, where agriculture is heavily dependent on imports of inputs such as fertilisers, hybrid seeds and synthetic pesticides. At the same time, in this model, a minimal share of value added remains at farm level. Farms are squeezed on the one hand by the rising cost of inputs, on the other by the low prices they can obtain for their products. At the same time, this model leads to ever greater capital investment, which further 'locks farms into this mode of production' and makes them even more vulnerable to market fluctuations. This model of agriculture assumes that nature is a constraint rather than an ally for farmers. However, with this approach, agriculture itself undermines the basic means of production, including healthy and living soils and pollinators.

Our research also clearly shows that a farming model that does not rely on synthetic pesticides is possible. However, for most farmers, it is very difficult economically to transition to reduced reliance on synthetic pesticides, again illustrating a need for support. 

To enable reduced dependency on synthetic pesticides requires integrated support from agricultural policy, which in turn involves a paradigm shift from disease and pest treatment to prevention via a much greater emphasis on agroecological practices. At the same time, it requires comprehensive support in knowledge and research and the development of economic models through which farms increase their share of added value. This could be achieved via shorter value chains or farm diversification through tourism, social and other services. Better organisation of farmers, the role of cooperatives as organisers of purchasing, processing and marketing and, in general, fairer conditions in market chains are also very important. All these elements address the underlying causes of economic and environmental crises and offer real solutions. 

The announcement on withdrawal of the Sustainable Use Regulation makes SPRINT's work on transition even more important because working with stakeholders to determine what specific transition pathways towards reduced dependency on synthetic pesticides might look like in practice in different cropping systems in Europe is a key part of the project. 

We are currently conducting workshops at our case study sites to discuss with stakeholders how this transition can be supported so that farmers can farm in line with the 'One Health' approach, which aims to balance the health of people, animals, and ecosystems.

We will be sharing insights from these workshops over the coming months.