MEPs have been advised that sprays used to control weeds, plant diseases and tillage pests should be taxed, with the monies collected used to fund the EU Green Deal’s pesticide reduction target.

EU policymakers have been told that a greater emphasis needs to be put on integrated pest management (IPM) and that non-chemical methods of control need to be given a stronger legal standing.

It was suggested that funds needed to back the transition away from the use of sprays on farms could be gathered by levies on those who sell sprays or by penalising farmers who fall foul of pesticide rules.

The monies raised would allow for the funding of independent advisory services on cutting the use of sprays and for compensating farmers who use non-chemical methods of weed and disease control if their yields drop.

European Parliament report

The recommendations came in a report to the European Parliament’s environment committee, which is working on an EU-wide Sustainable Use Regulation (SUR) proposed by the European Commission to tighten down on the use of sprays.

It was compiled by an Austrian Green MEP Sarah Wiener, who sits on the Parliament’s influential environment and agriculture committees. The report will inform any amendments put forward by the environment committee, which is taking the Parliament's lead on the proposal.

Wiener claims the report is intended to “work alongside farmers, not against them” and that pesticides have not always been used as the last port of call for farmers, as would be the case if IPM were followed more closely.

The Austrian MEP said this week that her report represents an “improvement” on the Commission’s proposal, which aims to half the use of pesticides across the EU by 2030.

Some compromise

Brussels proposed a second, separate target which would seek to reduce particularly harmful pesticides by 50% over this timeframe.

However, the Wiener stated that the risk posed by harmful pesticides must be reduced by a higher 80% by 2030.

A compromise was suggested for “sensitive areas” in which the Commission’s SUR proposal had sought an outright ban on sprays.

The whole of Ireland is classed as a nitrates-sensitive zone and had fallen under this category in last year's proposal.

Wiener stated that the “individual objectives” of these sensitive areas should be considered in legally-binding reduction targets and noted that nitrates-sensitive zones are “not relevant for the purposes of this regulation”.

The report also recommends making some diseases linked to pesticide exposure, such as Parkinson's or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, officially recognised occupational diseases.

Today’s rules

Currently, the rules around spray usage falls under the Sustainable Use Directive (SUD), which requires all farmers who use pesticides to undergo training to be legally allowed to buy and use the products.

The SUD applies to both grassland farmers controlling weeds and tillage farmers using a wider variety of pesticides to manage crops.

All farmers are also legally required to ensure any sprayer they use is in-test, however, figures obtained by the Irish Farmers Journal earlier this year suggest that many have fallen out of test.

Using an out-of-test sprayer could incur penalties under Department of Agriculture payment schemes.

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