Earlier this year, we discussed the impact of pesticides, especially a class of chemicals called neonicotinoids, in one of our Pioneer Perspectives. That was just after the UK and a number of EU countries, including Belgium, Denmark and Spain, authorised the use of neonics for use on sugar beets as an emergency response to the lack of alternatives for protection against virus yellows. The EU banned these chemicals in 2018, citing the negative impact on nature, and in particular pollinators, such as bees. It has also set ambitious targets for organic farming and biodiversity-rich agricultural land in its Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. The Strategy explicitly includes halting and reversing the decline of pollinators.
A more complex issue than you might think
The continued use of these harmful pesticides also presents a significant challenge for the EU’s Farm to Fork sustainable farming agenda under the Green Deal plan. In 2020, the EU announced plans to halve the use of pesticides by 2030 and to increase organic farming. However, industry and society will be impacted if a reduction of pesticides leads to increased costs and reduced yields, potentially jeopardising the bloc’s food security. Concerns over the use of neonicotinoids led the Commission to mandate the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to examine whether these authorisations are necessary – i.e. whether the risk to crops cannot otherwise be contained, and whether research to develop alternative solutions is in place in countries where they are issued. The EFSA is expected to deliver assessment results in October. If it finds that alternative pesticides can be used, it can take legal action to block further use of neonicotinoids.
Is reducing pesticide use realistic?
CropLife Europe (formerly European Crop Protection Association) has questioned whether halving pesticide use by 2030 is realistic considering the pace of development of new solutions. And as reported by Unearthed (Greenpeace’s journalism project), chemical giant Bayer has committed to cut the environmental impact of its pesticides by 30% by 2030, as opposed to the volume of pesticides used in themselves.
What about organic farming?
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Get to know the author
Marcus Wilert, Vice President, Responsible Investment team