Prioritising pesticide sustainability

Article written by Mark Abdilla – Executive, EU Policy and Legislation, MEUSAC
Published in The Malta Independent – 13.09.19

Pesticides are an important aspect of agriculture, enabling farmers to produce more food on less land and reduce instances where crops are ruined as a result of harmful organisms. Yet, overuse of pesticides could lead to various health hazards, and this necessitates some form of control over how these are used, ensuring both safety and sustainability.

Pesticides include a wide-ranging variety of different mixtures, including herbicides, repellents and growth regulators. Of note are those pesticides known as plant protection products (PPPs), which are aimed at protecting crops and destroying undesired plants. PPPs are particularly important because they may only be used within the EU if they are authorised by Member States.

For a PPP to be authorised for use in EU territory, it must go through a rigorous process to ensure that it is safe for use. The decision as to whether to authorise the PPP is made by the European Commission and Member States, based on a review undertaken by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Even after authorisation, PPPs are continuously monitored in order to ensure that levels being used in the food we eat are safe and sustainable.

A central piece of legislation is the Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides, which looks to reduce the risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment. To do this, each Member State draws up its own national action plan to work towards sustainable pesticide use. These plans cover five-year periods, with the first being established for the 2013-2018 period, and a revision taking place to cover a second five-year period until 2023.

Malta’s own national action plan for 2019-2023 looks to continue strengthening the principles of the previous plan, particularly by focusing on six specific objectives aimed at building on what has already been achieved. Such objectives include better educational opportunities for pesticide suppliers and users, better controls on the use of PPPs, as well as looking towards alternative strategies for low pesticide use in agriculture.

These action plans are essential in not only meeting the objectives of the Directive, but in ensuring that pesticides being used are safe and that human health is always prioritised. Having proper testing methods to identify pesticide existence in fruits and vegetables is essential in fulfilling these objectives. In fact, while it is commonly thought that pesticides are overused in the production of local produce, recent studies have shown that this overuse is not as alarming as once believed. According to data collected by the EFSA, only 3% of local produce contain levels of pesticides which are over the levels permitted by law. This is in contrast to previous statistics which showed that more than 13% of local produce was found to be over the limit.

Additionally, Malta recently banned the use of a specific pesticide known as chlorpyrifos, after dangers were flagged by the EFSA. This comes after the Commission called on all Member States to ban the use of this substance by 2020, due to its negative impacts on human health.

Proper cooperation between the EU and Member States continues to be essential in ensuring sustainable pesticide use.  This cooperation is also extended to those stakeholders who work with pesticides, as their experiences are essential in ensuring good policy-making. In fact, when Malta was preparing its own action plan, MEUSAC and the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA) organised consultation sessions in order to gather feedback from stakeholders in the agricultural sector. Stakeholders continue to emphasise the importance of having available testing methods and procedures to make sure that pesticides being placed on the market are safe.

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