15.06.2017 |

European Parliament bans pesticides from Ecological Focus Areas

Pesticides will be banned in the EU at least on ecological focus areas (Photo: CC0)

The European Parliament has adopted a ban on the use of pesticides on land set aside for nature conservation. As a result of a plenary vote on June 14, EU Farmers who receive subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will no longer be allowed to spray pesticides on “ecological focus areas” (EFAs). In February, the European Commission had proposed a ban as part of a package of measures designed to simplify the so-called “greening” of the CAP. On May 30, Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (COMAGRI) adopted a resolution to veto this Commission proposal. A group of lawmakers argued that a pesticide ban would undermine the production of crops that are allowed to be grown in those areas. However, in Wednesday’s plenary vote, opponents of the pesticide ban failed to secure the required majority. 267 MEPs voted for a ban while 363 MEPs voted for pesticides, missing the absolute majority by 13 votes. This means that Parliament automatically supported the Commission’s pesticide ban. “Saved by procedure manual!,” was the comment of environmental organisation BirdLife. “Even if the majority of MEPs present in the European Parliament voted in favour of pesticides, nature still won,” said Trees Robijns, Senior Policy Officer at BirdLife Europe and Central Asia. “This vote, a brazen display of vested interests over public good, shows that a big part of MEPs are not listening to the hundreds of thousands of people who have repeatedly expressed their support for nature in recent EU public consultations.”

Environmental groups and other non-governmental organisations still welcomed the outcome of vote. PAN Europe, a network of European NGOs promoting sustainable alternatives to pesticides, said the EP refusal to undermine EFAs by allowing pesticides use “is a small but welcome victory for common sense, biodiversity and the wider environment”. But Henriette Christensen, PAN Europe Senior Policy Advisor, added that “in truth, much more must be done on the road to sustainable agriculture.” The World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) also welcomed the decision: “Banning pesticide use on a small percentage of arable land will not impact overall agricultural production and is the right thing to do to bring back some of the farmland biodiversity we have been losing over the last decades,” said Jabier Ruiz, Senior Policy Officer, Agriculture and Sustainable Food Systems. He heavily critisied COMAGRI: “The EU Parliament's Committee on Agriculture tried to block this improvement over the last few months, showing clearly that they lack environmental awareness, and that they cannot be entrusted with full responsibility in future debates on the Common Agricultural Policy.”

Ecological Focus Areas were introduced as part of CAP’s greening measures. Farms with more than 15 hectares of arable land are required to dedicate at least 5% of this land to EFAs in order to receive payments. On these areas, they can implement measures such as creating buffer strips, maintaining hedges, leaving land lying fallow or planting nitrogen-fixing crops. In January, research by a group of scientists from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, the University of Göttingen and other institutions found that nitrogen-fixing crops like legumes do not benefit biodiversity much if farmers use pesticides on these areas. They had called for stricter management requirements. “It is of course essential to forbid the use of pesticides on EFAs,” said the lead author of the paper, Guy Pe’er. “It makes no sense to harm biodiversity in areas that are explicitly designated to protect it.” The ban on the use of pesticides in ecological focus areas will now apply from January 2018. (ab)

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