The European Union is sticking with a plan to halve the use of the pesticides by 2030 even as agriculture comes under pressure from shortages sparked by Russia's tactics in its war against Ukraine.
The European Commission today proposed to use legally binding targets to reach its plan, which stops short of an overall ban on pesticides and focuses instead on organic products and other alternatives, according to EU officials. The plan would prohibit using pesticides in public spaces and around facilities like schools and hospitals.
"We will replace chemical pesticides with safe alternatives," Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said. "Farmers will be fully supported with unprecedented EU funding possibilities to cover the cost of the transition."
A senior EU Commission official acknowledged studies showing that a significant drop in use of pesticides could lead to lower yields and higher food prices, but stressed that new techniques were now available which can effectively replace chemical pesticides without reducing agriculture output.
The rules on pesticides, if approved by EU governments, would replace the existing laxer law that the Commission said had been applied inconsistently across the EU.
Under the new regime, governments would have to submit regular reports on their progress towards the targets.
Governments are grappling with food prices near a record high as Russia's invasion of Ukraine has disrupted trade, fueling hunger and worsening a cost-of-living crisis. The EU had delayed the pesticides directive, which was due in the first quarter. It will have to be approved by the European Parliament and member states before it comes into effect and could still be changed or weakened during the debate.
Pests and diseases reduce crop yields by 20pc to 40pc globally, according to CABI, a UK-based nonprofit that researches agriculture. But as insects become more resistant to pesticides, farmers use more chemicals, raising concerns about the impact on wildlife and human health.
The US Environmental Protection Agency recently said that some commonly used insecticides are likely harmful to thousands of endangered animals and plants, while Bayer AG's weedkiller Roundup is the subject of tens of thousands of lawsuits alleging it causes cancer, which the company denies.
Requirements to reduce fertilizer and pesticide use could cut EU wheat yields by about 15pc by 2030, and flip the bloc into a net grain importer, Philippe Mitko, the president of Coceral, an association representing the agriculture trade, said last year.
EU officials said the changes are ambitious, but they will be gradual and feasible. The bloc will provide guidance, training and support, but it will be up to the member states to set their national targets and implement them.
The plan won't put the continent's food production at risk, the officials insisted, noting there is no alternative to acting since the decline of pollinators caused by pesticides is a serious threat to food supplies in the longer term.