Sustainable use of pesticides: European Parliament’s demands face implementation difficulties

Thursday 07 March 2019

On February 12th 2019, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a Resolution[1] on the implementation of the 2009 Directive on the sustainable use of pesticides.[2] The Directive provides for actions to reduce the risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment. The EP resolution echoes the report adopted by the European Commission in 2017, which revealed shortcomings in the implementation of certain provisions of the Directive in several Member States. In particular, it points out the global lack of quantitative objectives, targets and timetables included in the National Action Plans (NAPs) and insufficient efforts to encourage the uptake of the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) toolkit by farmers. The implementation of the Directive runs into, on the one hand, the concerns of the civil society - relayed by the European Parliament - and on the other hand, some serious obstacles.

At the plenary session of 12 February 2019, the European Parliament adopted its first Resolution on the implementation of the sustainable use of pesticides Directive. In the Resolution, the EP considers the overall degree of implementation progress unsatisfactory to meet the Directive’s main objectives and to help promoting « the transition towards ecologically sustainable and safe plant protection techniques ». The Resolution expresses concern at the fact that approximately 80 % of Member States’ NAPs do not provide quantitative targets to measure IPM (the consideration of all available plant protection methods to keep the use of plant protection products to justified levels). It also regrets that mandatory trainings for pesticide users do not cover all required subjects and that only 11 Member States have produced a revised NAP up to date, although the deadline for revision was the end of 2017.

The parliament overwhelmingly expressed concern about the loss of biodiversity reflecting public awareness of, and concerns about, biodiversity loss; member states differ significantly in how they implement the directive in the design and quality of National Action Plans (NAPs) and in the implementation of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) measures.”[3] - MEP Mairead McGuinness (EPP/Ireland)

The Resolution thus calls on Member States to complete the implementation of the Directive « without further delay ». This injunction and the conclusions of the EP Resolution are not new for the Member States nor the European Commission. The European Commission’s report adopted in October 2017 already emphasized failures to implement the Directive. It indicated how National Competent Authorities globally lack guidance to establish specific and measurable targets and indicators for a long-term strategy for the reduction of risks and impacts from pesticide use. These targets may cover different areas of concern, like training of users, pesticide residues, appropriate equipment and others

The Directive displays general principles of IPM in its Annex III. However, the proper implementation of these principles is difficult to assess for national authorities because such a management varies from one parcel to another and also because the preventive use can be considered necessary by professional advisers who assist pesticide users.

Moreover, plant protection products don’t have the same purpose (e.g. herbicides, fungicides, insecticides), different types of impact (on human health and on the environment) and are not used in the same quantities. Therefore, the hazards associated to them varies and it is thus pretty difficult to measure progress in the reduction of pesticide-input in pest management.

Furthermore, the EP Resolution notes that Member States have generally not implemented systems to gather information on chronic (persisting for a long time) pesticide poisoning. The big difficulty for Member States is to link diseases to a specific cause, except if the disease is directly caused by an accident involving plant protection products.[4]  The two first Member States that have been audited on their implementation of the Directive (Spain and Hungary) share this difficulty.[5]

The EP is aware of the fact that the sustainable use of pesticides is determined not only by the use itself but also upstream at the time of selection and placing on the market of phytosanitary products. There are today no fewer than 484 active substances allowed in the EU, including the controversial herbicide “glyphosate”, whose associated hazards are actually less numerous than other herbicides like chlorotoluron in EU Pesticides database[6]. The latter is one of the so-called « candidates for substitution »: active substances with particularly harmful properties that Member States are « required to evaluate to know “if they can be replaced (substituted) by other adequate solutions (chemical and non-chemical)”.[7] Such harmful properties include among others endocrine disrupting properties, high carcinogenicity and high reproductive toxicity.[8]  

Some provisions of the Directive 2009/128/EC such as the setup of awareness-raising programmes related to pesticides or the regularity of controls of pesticide application equipment may benefit from a better implementation through the enforcement of binding rules at the national level and from an adequate allocation of means to the competent authorities. In contrast, other provisions are much more difficult to implement such as the setting of quantitative targets and timetables for measures to protect the aquatic environment, the collection of information on pesticide chronic poisoning or the control of proper implementation of the integrated pest management. Facing the anxiety of many European citizens towards pesticides, Member States can rely on the Open Method of Coordination driven by the Commission to expose common difficulties and best practices (e.g. measurable targets to reduce environmental risks in Germany and Denmark). A solution could also be to discourage as much as possible the preventive use of chemical methods and increase the accessibility to non-chemical alternatives by funding research and providing them with visibility.

[1] European Parliament esolution of 12 February 2019 on the implementation of Directive 2009/128/EC on the sustainable use of pesticides :

[2] Directive 2009/128/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 October 2009 establishing a framework for Community action to achieve the sustainable use of pesticides :

[3] AgriLand, EU Parliament scrutinises use of pesticides on farms :

[4] See Final Report of an audit carried out in Spain from 23 January 2018 to 02 February 2018 in order to evaluate the implementation of measures to achieve the sustainable use of pesticides :

[5] See also Final Report of an audit carried out in Hungary from 5 March to 14 March 2018 in order to evaluate the implementation of measures to achieve the sustainable use of pesticides :

[6] Classification of Glyphosate under Reg. 1272/2008 : Eye Damage 1 - H318 ; Aquatic Chronic 2 – H411

Classification of Chlorotoluron under Reg. 1272/2008 : Carcinogenic 2 - H35 ; Reprotoxic. 2 - H361d ; Aquatic Acute 1 - H400 ; Aquatic Chronic 1 - H410

[7] Approval of active substances, European Commission :

[8] See EU Pesticides database for more details and detailed information per active substance :

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