Allegrini 2018

Pesticide restrictions endanger the survival of 70% of European vineyards

Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation: 2030 is too close, and the alternatives are still too far away. Thought by Aly Leonardy

Among the many ambitious goals of EU policies aimed at restoring soil and habitat health and mitigating the effects of climate change is a 50% reduction in pesticide use. The Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation (SUR), one of the main points of the EU Green Deal, in line with the commitments made in the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategy, is a challenge for the entire world of agriculture, beginning with wine, and has already been rejected more than once. However ideologically correct and acceptable, the fight against the use of pesticides, without there being as yet equally effective alternatives, runs the risk of plunging the cultivated fields of the Old Continent into the uncertainty of crops at the mercy of events, with the evident danger of depending more and more on chance and on the productions of other countries.
In January, the wine cooperatives of France, Italy (with Alleanza delle Cooperative Alimentari) and Spain, had returned to office, strengthened by the decision of the EU Council to ask the Commission for a further impact assessment on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation, which takes into account the impact of the proposal on food safety. And, perhaps, reconsider your goals in light of common sense and feasibility, based on more complete and clear data, beginning with those relating to actual pesticide use, which do not correspond to manufacturing companies’ sales figures. The subject returned to the center of media attention a few days ago, when the European People’s Party, the largest group present in the European Parliament (with 176 members out of a total of 705), opposed the regulatory project to halve the use of pesticides chemicals by 2030, arguing that “in too many regions or Member States the implementation of existing nature legislation has led to a bureaucratic nightmare and a planning block, endangering food security, renewable energy production, critical infrastructure and much more”, as stated in the resolution presented by the EPP and revealed by Reuters.
France is particularly sensitive to the issue, as it was the country that purchased the most pesticides in 2020, according to “The Atlas of Pesticides”, published by five environmental associations to fuel the debate and contribute to the development of alternative solutions (291 out of the 453 approved by the European Union). Obviously, there are more problematic territories and regions, essentially those that host the most intensive crops, including vines, which are in fourth place among the crops that receive the most treatments, on average, during the year: 12.3 between herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. Nonetheless, viticulture, often at the centre of controversy due to the massive use of pesticides, even near densely populated areas, boasts a very large organic surface, equal to 20% of the total, almost double the average of all agricultural surfaces of the country (10.5%).
Furthermore, the Atlas emphasizes how, over time, initiatives to reduce pesticide use have proven to be a colossal failure: in 2008 the objective was set of a 50% cut by 2018, but between 2016 and 2018 even saw an increase of 25%. Certainly, it is difficult to reconcile the necessity to protect biodiversity and soil health with the need for farmers to have a guaranteed income as much as possible. A particularly felt need in viticulture, where management costs are high, and the threat of vine diseases is always around the corner. Perhaps underestimated by the EU Commission, given that, as recalled in an interview with the French magazine “Vitisphere” Aly Leonardy, president of the CEPV professional college and vice president of the Assemblea delle Regioni Europee del Vino (Arev), “the Council of Ministers of ‘Agriculture had to formally apply to submit an impact study of the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation. It took months of debate and reflection to realize that reducing the use of pesticides by 50% by 2030, i.e. in a few years, is practically impossible. Equipment modernization cannot be completed in six years, and the development and production of new techniques take at least 12-15 years”.
According to Leonardy, “if applied in this manner, this new regulation could result in the disappearance of up to 60% of some vineyards in many European regions”. “Winegrowers must have the means to defend themselves against vine parasites and this risk varies according to the climatic conditions from year to year. All farmers want to reduce the use of chemical pesticides, partly because they are expensive, but they must be able to defend the fruits of their labour”. The Agriculture Commission, with its amendments, “does not want to question the essence of the European Commission’s proposal, i.e. the setting of a binding objective for the Member States in terms of reducing the use and risks of pesticides, but we need to move the time horizon forward, to 2035, to allow Member States and farmers to have more time to reach the goal”, adds the president CEPV. “Comagri also aims to increase “the availability and affordability of low-risk alternatives, such as the use of biological control and other non-chemical alternatives, including digital and precision technologies and new genomic techniques, which, however, are currently subject in the European Union to the legislation on GMOs, and therefore in fact not usable, pending a regulatory framework that facilitates their authorization. We must be serious and responsible, because the obstacles to new genomic techniques, the use of drones and precision viticulture still need to be removed”.
Furthermore, as previously stated, “a true exhaustive impact study on the proposals of the European Commission, which is not currently envisaged, but also to insert a review clause for 2027 to measure the possibility of confirming goals for 2035, or having to recalibrate them, with punctual studies”. The political balance - warns Leonardy - between the Environment Commission and the Agriculture Commission is complex, there is a lot of pressure from NGOs and part of the Commission, but we must realize that this proposal endangers 70% of European vineyards. The Greek, Italian, Spanish, German and French research institutes have been working for years to reduce and control the use of plant protection products, for this reason, if we want to maintain an economically sustainable vineyard we must listen to the wine supply chain, and not think of using the magic wand or, worse, exposing the vineyards to the threat of new pathogens without an adequate response”, concludes Aly Leonardy.

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