Friesch Dagblad - 19 december 2020: “The memory of what happened in the past. That's what Violette Geissen (57), professor of soil degradation and land management at Wageningen University & Research, calls the soil. And that memory reveals staggering facts. Research on European agricultural land shows that 83 percent of soil samples contain pesticides, usually a cocktail of different agents. Resources were also believed to degrade quickly, were recovered years later.

Farmers who use the resources adhere to the law. Before pesticides come onto the market, they are tested. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and in the Netherlands the Board for the Authorization of Plant Protection Products and Biocides (Ctbg) then determine the conditions for use.

Farmers cannot be blamed for spraying crop protection products, says professor Violette Geissen. The approved insect, fungus and weed control agents are safe according to the standards. Only those standards are considerably outdated. "We don't know what the actual effects on our health are ." And so she investigates.

In 2018, researchers commissioned by the European Food Safety Authority EFSA found residues of multiple pesticides in almost one in every three food samples they examined, up to 29 different substances in one product. All in low concentrations and below the maximum permitted concentration, so safe for use according to the applicable standards. It has never been investigated whether such a cocktail of substances and the added amount can harm human health. Nor is it known what these cocktails do in the lungs after inhaling particulate matter, which entrains them. Or in the soil of fields where they are used and in nature reserves where they precipitate.

 violette volkskrant pauline marie niks 

Violette Geissen leads SPRINT, a large-scale European research project into the effects of pesticides on humans, animals, plants and the environment
Foto credits: Pauline Marie Niks - Volkskrant

Much is still unknown about the role of pesticides in agriculture and their relation to people and the environment. Wageningen professor Violette Geissen is leading a large-scale study. Could there be connection with diseases such as Parkinson's? 

Geissen, currently professor of soil degradation and land management at Wageningen University & Research, is leading Sprint, a large-scale European research project into the effects of pesticides on humans, animals, plants and the environment. There is still so much that we do not know, says the German-born professor. "Many questions have never been properly researched." 

 The Dutch Radio show - Vroege Vogels (Early Birds) - witnessed how the first soil samples of the SPRINT project were taken in the Dutch Case Study Site. 

Until now, the effects of individual pesticides have been tested by looking at only five soil organisms. "And that while in reality there are a million different organisms in the soil," says Professor Geissen. "That old method is therefore outdated. We have to look at more organisms and we must also look at mixtures."

In the Netherlands, the focus is mainly on potato fields. "We will then test the mixtures of pesticides found in the laboratory on a many different soil organisms," says researcher Paula Harkes. In this way we hope to get a realistic picture of the means and the risks in practice. "

You can read more and listen to the radio show here

press release: 409 words – reading time 1 min 34 sec

The use of pesticides represents a risk to human and environmental health, with recent research findings suggesting an association of exposure with increased risk of health problems, including Parkinson’s disease, reproductive and developmental issues and cancer, whilst affecting the health of soil, water, and biodiversity.

The newly launched SPRINT project (Sustainable Plant Protection Transition: A Global Health Approach), consists of a consortium of research institutes from 11 European countries alongside colleagues in Argentina and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). SPRINT will develop a Global Health Risk Assessment Toolbox to evaluate the impact of pesticides on human health and the adverse effects on plants, animals and ecosystems.

SPRINT will pool the knowledge and data from across Europe to find ways to improve the sustainable use of pesticides. Working with farmers and policymakers, researchers will find ways to support a transition to more sustainable plant protection.

Professor Violette Geissen of Wageningen University, who leads the SPRINT consortium said:

"I am excited to be starting this project, which will answer many questions of vital importance to European citizens. We have brought together scientists who have long-standing expertise to share on this topic. I am confident that we can support regulators and policymakers to make well-informed decisions to introduce more sustainable solutions to agricultural practices.

It is not an easy time to start a new project, but current issues with the use of pesticides means we cannot delay. Together we are looking forward to making a meaningful contribution to the EU's Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies."