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European Commission Backtracks Plans to Reduce Pesticide Use: A Threat for Nature, Beekeepers and Pollinators Lacking Real Benefit for Farmers

Updated: Feb 12

Press Release

After almost two years of political discussions, European Commissioner Ursula Von der Leyen recently withdrew the proposal for a Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation (SUR). The ambitious yet necessary proposal sought to hit the 50% reduction mark for pesticide use in the EU by 2030. The announcement comes at a moment of unrest across Europe from the agricultural world. However, backtracking measures to protect the environment and sustainable ecosystems will exacerbate the many challenges the agricultural world is facing. At BeeLife, we denounce the short-term vision driving this unfortunate decision.

The SUR bill was introduced in June 2022 with ambitious goals in line with general sustainability goals in Europe, framed within the Green Deal. The bill included binding targets for pesticide reduction and crop-specific rules for Integrated Pest Management (IPM). As BeeLife and many other environmental and citizen organisations continuously stated, strong measures for pesticide use reduction and the proper implementation of IPM are necessary to tackle the ecological and public health issues linked to intensive pesticide use (1). 

However, Von der Leyen’s announcement to withdraw the SUR is a significant setback on two fronts. First, it ensures that business as usual reigns for the pesticide market and use. The well-recorded environmental and public health risks associated with pesticide use will continue to impact our fields, nature, and public health. 

Second, the withdrawal poses a democratic challenge. Following European democratic procedures, over 1 million citizens across the EU came together to demand the European Commission a change in the agricultural system (European Citizens Initiative Save Bees and Farmers), including phasing out synthetic pesticide use by 2030 (2). Saving bees and ensuring ecologically and financially sustainable agricultural practices have become a priority for citizens. Will the European Commission ignore this plea? 

After delays, opposition campaigns by some political parties (namely the European People’s Party) (3), and stark negotiations, the SUR bill became highly controversial. Negotiations within the European Parliament reduced the bill’s ambitions at one point, leading to its rejection in a plenary vote in November 2023 (4). Nevertheless, the SUR was not dead and buried. The Belgian presidency of the Council of the European Union kept the hopes for a workable SUR that would highlight the importance of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). These hopes are now gone with the Commissioner’s recent statements.

We need to take active steps towards, not against, a real sustainable Europe. Bees, pollinators, biodiversity, and citizens require ambitious measures to protect the environment from hazardous contaminants such as pesticides. A bee- and pollinator-friendly agriculture that ensures we work with nature and not against it has become a priority for sustainability. However, this reality cannot materialise without reducing pesticide use and ensuring a fair ecological transition in agriculture. By withdrawing the SUR, the European Commission is stepping back from its commitments and dismissing citizens’ pleas for sustainability. Missing the opportunity for an effective regulation on pesticide use will produce greater costs in the future, but who will foot the bill? 


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