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The severity of climate change and biodiversity decline are evident to many and 1.1 million people supported a European Citizens' Initiative calling for a very ambitious pesticide reduction and support for farmers to achieve this.
This article was written by Nina Holland (CEO) and originally appeared in EU Observer.
Pesticides are a major cause of dramatic biodiversity decline around the world, an ecological disaster that is in an even more advanced stage than the climate crisis, putting in peril "the integrity of living systems" that humans also depend upon, according to the Stockholm Resilience Center.
Scientific evidence and years of citizen action drove the 2020 announcement of the EU Green Deal and its largely progressive agricultural component, the Farm to Fork Strategy.
And for a while, it seemed a different wind was blowing in Brussels, at least where food and agriculture topics were concerned. Politicians at the top of the EU Commission, including president Ursula von der Leyen, appeared to recognise the need to act and to act urgently.
However, right from the start of these plans, we have witnessed day-to-day, month-to-month, how corporations such as Bayer and BASF, their lobby groups, and their political allies have operated to stall, undermine, and even derail numerous Green Deal projects.
This week the pesticide reduction law will be voted on in Strasbourg. It has become as severely hollowed out — or worse — as the Nature Restoration Law. Notably the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) has worked to undermine these proposals, walking a cynical populist path of environmental destruction, and rebranding itself the 'farmers' party' for perceived electoral gain.
Regrettably a similar fate has greeted the Sustainable Food Systems law, new animal welfare rules, a highly-needed revision of chemicals legislation, and more.
But the collapse of the Green Deal did not suddenly fall from the sky.
Two-year lobbying campaign
A two-year long campaign was waged, with the farm lobby and the pesticide industry working in tandem. This involved championing self-orchestrated 'impact studies', scaremongering about loss of productivity, and food security.
The assumptions and design of these studies were widely discredited by scientists, EU institutions, and NGOs. No less than 6,000 scientists have expressed their support for both the pesticide-reduction law and the Nature Restoration Law as essential for food security in the long term.
Nevertheless, the corporate drumbeat kept banging ever louder and in the end caused a six-month delay in the pesticide reduction negotiations, as the Council forced the commission to do more studies.
Besides this delay tactic, many others have been used to undermine the pesticide reduction proposal.
A new Corporate Europe Observatory report reveals that the industry lobby not only undermined the pesticide reduction targets proposed in the law, but also downplayed the potential of biological ways to deal with pests; sponsored opaque media content to promote their messages; and pushed their own technological solutions even when unproven, such as deregulating gene-edited crops. The latter will be patented by corporations, increasing dependency for farmers.
This is another situation, familiar from other lobby battles, where farm lobby Copa-Cogeca as well as conservative MEPs of the EPP claim to represent the voice of farmers in Europe but in reality act against their interests. Farmers, their families and neighbours are the first to be exposed to the serious health impacts that spraying pesticides on farmland can cause such as Parkinson's disease or cancer.
And what of the decision-makers responsible for delivering on Green Deal promises? Frans Timmermans, with overall responsibility, left office for domestic Dutch politics, while von der Leyen has long since forgotten about the EU's 'man on the moon' moment' and has failed to provide consistent support to the Green Deal agenda when the going gets tough. Meanwhile corporate lobbies strengthened the hand of EPP and other politicians who consistently prioritise corporate well-being over health and environmental well-being.
Why should this sabotage by well-funded, self-interested corporate lobbies be tolerated any longer? It's time to stop this.
There is a public interest firewall against tobacco industry lobbying on public health matters, and this is also demanded by climate crisis campaigners for the fossil-fuel industry, to stop decision-makers from sharing platforms, granting lobby access, and to prevent conflicts of interest.
To tackle the biodiversity crisis and create a liveable future, we need policies to guide and support farmers to move away from synthetic pesticides. To get there, we will have to kick toxic polluters out of political decision-making.