Pesticide sales remain high across the EU despite evidence of their harm, a new report reveals

Tractor spraying pesticides onto ploughed field in Germany / EU.
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The European Environment Agency (EEA) urged EU states on 26 April to reduce pesticide usage. The warning came as it published findings that one or more pesticides were detected above thresholds of concern at 22% of all monitoring sites in rivers and lakes across Europe in 2020.

The EEA’s report said that:

From 2011 to 2020, pesticide sales in the EU-27 remained relatively stable at around 350,000 tonnes per year.

Pesticides are widely used in the agricultural sector. People also use them for forestry, along roads and railways, and in urban areas such as public parks, playgrounds, and gardens.

The insecticide imidacloprid and the herbicide metolachlor showed the highest absolute number of exceedances across Europe. These were primarily in northern Italy and northeastern Spain. Meanwhile, in groundwater, the herbicide atrazine caused the most exceedances. That’s despite the EU banning it in 2003.

Pesticides are deeply damaging

The report said human exposure to chemical pesticides, primarily through food but also through the air in agriculture-intense regions, is linked to a range of problems. They include the development of cardiac, respiratory and neurological diseases, as well as cancer.

The EEA added that:

Read on...

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Worryingly, all of the pesticides monitored… were detected in higher concentrations in children than in adults.

Researchers conducted a separate study in Spain, Latvia, Hungary, Czech Republic and the Netherlands between 2014 and 2021. They detected at least two pesticides in the bodies of 84% of survey participants.

Driven by agriculture

Pesticide pollution is also driving biodiversity loss across the continent, causing significant declines in insect populations and threatening the critical role they play in food production. A German study cited in the EEA report found a 76% decline in flying insects in protected zones over a period of 27 years. It identified pesticides as one of the reasons for the decline.

There was some variation in the sales volume between states. In 11 countries, pesticide sales decreased between 2011 and 2020. The biggest drops were in the Czech Republic, Portugal, and Denmark. On the other hand, Latvia and Austria saw the strongest rates of increase in terms of sales.

Germany and France were responsible for the sharpest rise in sales volumes. They, along with Spain and Italy, accounted for the highest volumes sold for most groups of active substances. The four countries are also the EU’s biggest agricultural producers.

Other methods are available

According to the EEA, 83% of agricultural soils tested in a 2019 study contained pesticide residues. This is a result of modern food production systems, which rely on high volumes of chemical pesticides to ensure crop yield stability and quantity.

However, the EU body said other methods are available to achieve the same results:

We could reduce our dependency on chemical pesticides to maintain crop yields and our overall pesticide use volumes by shifting to alternative models of agriculture, such as agroecology

It is now urging the EU’s 27 members to cut dependency on pesticides.

In the UK, the government recently approved the use of bee-killing thiamethoxam for the third year in a row. The “emergency authorisation” came after lobbying by the National Farmers’ Union.

Featured image via Stefan Thiesen/Wikimedia Commons

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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