European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Janusz Wojciechowski has urged caution on any potential moves to limit the use of pesticides in the EU.

Yesterday (Tuesday, January 25), a petition through the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) was received and debated by the European Parliament, which the commissioner took part in.

The petition, which has over one million signatures, is aiming to ban synthetic pesticides. It is titled ‘Save bees and farmers: Towards a bee-friendly agriculture for a healthy environment’.

The ECI is a tool by which EU citizens can call on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal. At least one million signatures from citizens in at least seven member states are required.

Previous ECIs in relation to pesticides successfully resulted in limits on pesticides use.

Speaking at yesterday’s hearing – which was heard jointly by the parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, and the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development – Dr. Martin Dermine of the Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe), said: “Pesticides are toxins that kill bees, butterflies and other pollinators as well as plants and micro-organisms.

“Pesticides endanger our health, especially the health of farmers. Pesticides are also a major factor in the global extinction of species,” Dr. Dermine added.

PAN Europe is one of driving forces behind this particular ECI.

However, Commissioner Wojciechowski took a practical approach to the issue.

He said: “Protecting our pollinators is essential to protecting our farmers and our long-term food security.

“However, in addressing this challenge, we need to put practical solutions and consider different starting points when it comes to the average use of plant protection products [in the EU],” he added.

He cited 2019 figures showing considerable variation between member states in terms of plant protection product use, ranging from 8.88kg/ha of cropland in the Netherlands to 0.57kg/ha of cropland in Romania (in terms of active substances).

“To provide a full and realistic appraisal of the requests set out in this initiative, we must take into the account the challenges faced by farmers to reduce their use of pesticides [and] the impact this could have on their economic viability, their output, and the health of their plants,” the commissioner cautioned.

He added: “European farmers already observe very high standards and must feel that their hard work is valued.

“We must also maintain a level playing field, within the EU and in relation to global competitors, who may not follow such high standards as our farmers.”

The issue of food security is also one to be aware of, Commissioner Wojciechowski warned.

“Any reduction in pesticides would have to be managed with extreme care, in order to avoid negative impacts on our capacity to ensure the adequate and affordable food supply for citizens in the short term.

“It is important to have informed and detailed discussions with citizens about our food and farming systems.

“Too often, it seems that society takes food for granted. This also means taking farmers for granted, as well as our farmland ecosystems, including our bees and pollinators,” the commissioner said.