2nd Symposium on the Future of Sustainable Agriculture in the EU: Assessing the Role of Pesticides and Biocides

There are an estimated 67,000 pest species worldwide harmful to agricultural crops (Nellemann, C. et al., 2009). Plants’ vulnerability to these organisms tends to increase with the human intervention aimed at the increase of their yield and if they are grown in monocultures (Regnault-Roger, 2014). In this context, the use of pesticides, and more generally biocides, offers numerous advantages, such as their contribution to the fight of diseases and the protection of yields, but it can also have negative impact on the environment and associated risks to human health.

The placing of pesticides on the European market is governed by the Regulation on Plant Protection Products (2009) and the Regulation on Biocidal Products (2012), whose aim is to ensure high level protection of human and animal health and the environment, to harmonise the approval procedures throughout the EU and to foster the phase-out of harmful substances. The Directive on Sustainable Use of Pesticides (2009), on the other hand,aims to promote the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and incentivise more sustainable plant protection methodologies and products. Furthermore, in 2015 the European Commission published a list of active substances to be phased-out, and Member States are now obliged to carry out a comparative assessment to ascertain if alternatives exist to plant-protection products containing these substances.

Several challenges linked to pesticides have been underlined by the Commission over time. A 2016 report on sustainable use of biocides found that the comparative assessment tool, though powerful, has not yet reached its full potential. Moreover, the overview report on the authorisation systems in place at EU level and the report on the sustainable use of pesticides, published in 2017, found that a majority of Member States fail to comply with the approval procedures indicated by the Commission, mainly as a result of specific national requirements and a lack of harmonised methodology for conducting evaluations, and that some of them have not yet set clear criteria for implementing the principles of integrated pest management. Finally, a controversy has emerged since 2015 over the renewal of the approval of glyphosate, eventually granted for five years in December 2017, after the EFSA and the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) came to diverging conclusions on its carcinogenicity, strongly dividing stakeholders on the topic.

With the discussions over the use of pesticides growing on a global scale, this international symposium will provide an invaluable opportunity to engage with the debate on pesticides in agriculture and analyse potential strategies for their sustainable use in the EU. Furthermore, it will enable delegates to scrutinise the procedure of approval of a pesticide, discuss about the renewal of the approval of glyphosate, and get to know novel and more sustainable plant protection products and methodologies.

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