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Anika Gatt Seretny, CropLife Europe: “Mandatory reduction targets are not realistic”

This article was originally published in Investigate Europe.

For some in the farming industry, the new EU pesticides regulation is seen as an excessive regulatory burden. Once implemented, it will usher in significant changes for agribusiness operations across Europe and several groups have signaled clear opposition to its focus on reduction targets.

Here, Anika Gatt Seretny from industry association CropLife Europe, argues that the current EU proposals are difficult to achieve and fears that industry is being left in the dark about the plans.  

What is your organization’s position on the Farm to Fork strategy and the upcoming SUR proposal?

Farm to Fork and the Green Deal have set very ambitious goals and objectives. Europe being a climate neutral continent is something that our industry and all of us can subscribe to. The big objectives for 2030 or 2050 are something that we’re fully committed to.

The issues for our industry and many others are that it’s not well enough explained how we are going to achieve those objectives. The ambition has been presented before any impact assessment has been made.

There are many industries, including ours, that struggle to see how we are going to get there. And there are sometimes competing laws. It is a paradigm shift in how to produce food, how to travel, how to build a car, etc. We’re looking to see concrete proposals on how we can achieve that.

Do you oppose the mandatory target in pesticides reduction for member states?

We feel that mandatory targets, as such, are not realistic. They are targets that are going to be very hard to achieve and they could have unintended, negative consequences. Given the weather patterns, given the changes in climate, removing some of the tools from the toolbox that farmers are currently using, is not a solution that is going to be workable.

There are two elements of it. There is the SUR [Sustainable use of pesticides regulation], that is about how to reduce the pesticide use and risk of pesticides. There is another EU legislation that approves pesticides and bio pesticides. By 2030, the ambition is that in the SUR, there’s a reduction of 50 per cent.

But regulation 1107/2009 [concerning the placing of plant protection products on the market] is not promising that 50 per cent more of the alternatives are going to be placed on the market, in order for farmers to continue to have a toolbox to protect their crops from pests and diseases.

The Commission did a presentation just a couple of months ago that shows that 50 per cent of the applications are stuck in the regulatory pipeline. We’re talking about those pesticides or bio pesticides that could possibly be alternatives – innovative, new products – meaning reduced quantity needs to be applied, that are right now stuck in the regulatory pipeline. And it takes more than 10 years for them to get out of that pipeline and on to the market. 

Now, 10 years is beyond the 2030 target already. So, we’re talking about removing tools without farmers given other tools in order for their strawberries or apples or wheat to be protected.

How are your members, the pesticides producers, preparing themselves for this upcoming law?

Our industry is an innovative-based industry, their core is around R&D [research and development]. The companies are investing in a lot of different solutions that are complementary to each other. For instance, you have the pesticides and bio pesticides, and bio pesticides are a growing market, both for small and big companies. 

These investments are already showing in the reduction in pesticide use and risk seen through the Harmonized Risk Indicator. Now, while it’s an imperfect tool, because it only collects pesticide sales data, which doesn’t represent actual use, it is a tool that the European Commission is going to be using for calculations under the SUR. 

HRI already shows us that since they started calculating it [in 2017], we are already seeing a year-on-year trend that pesticide use and risk is decreasing.

There is also digital and precision agriculture, with GPS tools or data software tools, that would analyze the field in a way that you could deploy the pesticides or bio pesticides in a targeted way, and therefore, use it just there and then. In terms of the business, it’s about providing farmers with a choice, so that they can choose whatever it is that they need, in order for farm performance to be sustainable.

Has the European Commission listened to your concerns throughout this process?

With the Commission, what we do see is that there is a common understanding – as with most stakeholders, maybe except those NGOs that would like us to cease to exist – that integrated pest management (IPM) is the right tool. Meaning a structure of providing the farmers with a choice depending on the land, the soil, how much wind there is, their water, etc.

IPM gives you a very good idea of how you would be able to farm that crop. If I understand correctly, the SUR is going to have an IPM definition. IPM has the definition that pesticides should be used as a last resort, as much as needed but as little as necessary. I think that we are in a good common understanding of what the main principle should be.

The biggest problem with SUD [the EU directive from 2009 preceding SUR] was that it had a big problem in terms of monitoring that IPM was really being implemented in the field, in the member states. So if [IPM] remains the cornerstone, then that would be a good solution.

Which member states are most aligned with your views? 

We’ve seen a number of initiatives and opinions being put forward by member states. Their biggest concern, which is our biggest concern as well, is that [the targets] are arbitrary – a fixed number to get to within seven years, before we’ve even seen an impact assessment. That’s a tall order.

Sweden and Denmark and a lot of other countries have been very stringent in terms of the pesticide applications and their countries. There’s a lot of concern. Are you counting it from the ‘80s when you started? Or are you counting the last six, seven years as your starting point without acknowledging the historical achievements?

There is a lot to consider for that to be workable, effectively, because it doesn’t make sense to punish farmers that have actually been very conscious and implementing the IPM with the SUD for years already.

At the moment, there seems to be a push to postpone not only the SUR but other policies on sustainable agriculture, due to the war in Ukraine. Has CropLife supported these calls?

As an association, and as the industry, we have never asked for, or lobbied for a delay of the 23 March presentation [of the EU pesticide regulation]. From our perspective, obviously we see reports of a looming food crisis, but climate change is another crisis. In that sense, there are ultimate prerogatives that one has to address. And while hard, these things have to be addressed. These things just have to go forward.