Saving Wildlife and Biodiversity: Looking to the Future

Published in Nature Watch

November 2019 saw the launch of the European Citizens' Initiative petition under the title 'Save Bees and Farmers'.

The petition was the brain-child of a consortium of environmental groups, including Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe, the Munich Environmental Institute, the German 'Aurelia Foundation', 'SumofUs', France's 'Générations Futures', and Global 2000 Austria. The full list of the campaign's supporters can be found here, and of course it includes us, Eco Hvar from Croatia. The campaign's aims were summarized as follows: "The Europe-wide initiative aims to fight against the collapse of natural ecosystems and in parallel, the collapse of small-scale farms; we want to support family farming and restore biodiversity by gradually replacing synthetic pesticides with non-toxic alternatives. Civil society organisations from across the European Union are supporting the campaign. They call on the European Commission to propose new legislation to phase out synthetic pesticides, restore biodiversity and support farmers in the necessary transition."

Public awareness of the dangers of pesticides is slowly awakening. Relatively few people are conscious of the scale of pesticide use worldwide, and the fact that the effects of the resulting poison mixtures are absolutely unkown. Many farmers are likely to be be surprised that people think they need to be saved! The agrochemical companies have been outstandingly successful in persuading them that farming is impossible without chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and that their products are safe and do not affect crop quality - tenets which are increasingly questioned and dismissed by independent scientists, observers and consumers. On Hvar chemical pesticides are used in astonishing quantities, especially glyphosate-based herbicides (see our article on land use in the historic Stari Grad Plain). Some farmers have changed their ways on learning more about the adverse effects of the poisons they have been using. A surprising number have carried on undeterred, even though most of them know that Hvar has a high rate of ill health, including cancers and thyroid problems, which can reasonably be attributed, at least in part, to the effects of chemical pesticides.

To bring home the urgent need to stop the intensive and indiscriminating use of chemical pesticdes in agriculture, the petition campaign included a research project titled 'Pesticides in our Bedrooms'. The results were published on September 21st 2021 and make alarming reading. The overall picture was outlined in a press release, and the details of the project were presented in a brochure, available in PDF format online. Eco Hvar took part, collecting a dust sample on June 22nd 2021 from a house in the village of Svirče which abuts on to vineyards. Seven potentially highly dangerous chemical pesticides were found to be present: five fungicides (Boscalid, Cyprodnil, Fluopyram, Pyradostrobin, Spiroxamine and Trifoxystrobin) and two herbicides (Pendimethalin and Chlorotoluron). You can read about their proven possible adverse effects in our articles 'Pesticide Products in Croatia' and 'Pesticides and their Adverse Effects'. Only a limited number of pesticides were included in the test, which was carried out in the Yootest laboratory in France. Many subtsnaces commonly used on Hvar, such as glyphosate, were not tested, so one fears the true picture is even worse. Naturally the owners of the house which was tested are extremely concerned about the potential damage being caused to their family and friends. Clearly a solution needs to be found as a matter of urgency. the only acceptable immediate measure would be for the farmers to stop using chemical pesticides and turn to organic cultivation.

The lawsuits being raised successfully in the United States against the manufacturers of Roundup will certainly help to change people's attitudes to that and other glyphosate-based herbicides. Slowly but surely, around the world, more cases relating to pesticide use are being brought. The French organisation 'Justice pesticides' is collating them as an information tool in order to help victims of pesticide use to understand how to make realistic claims in court. Lawsuits are lengthy, costly, and require a lot of detailed preparation. A successful case sends an exceptionally powerful message to all concerned, especially the agrochemical companies.

We need bees and other pollinators! Photo: Vivian Grisogono

A European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) is a formal application to garner public support, so that the proposals put forward in the petition will be examined by the European Commission. General guidelines about ECIs are given here. If the Commission decides the proposals merit it, they will prepare them for adoption into law by the European Parliament or the European Council. The process for preparing an ECI is complex and costly. The campaign has to be properly formulated and presented to the Commission for approval. Not all the campaigns submitted are selected to go further. There are six steps from start to finish in an ECI. The first is to create an organisers' group of at least seven people, each from a different EU country. Applying for registration is step two, for which the campaign must have an 'organiser account' in order to liaise with the EU, and provide details of the initiative, its aims, and its initial funding. Once submitted, the response will be given by the EU within two to four months. Step three is to garner support from at least one million people within twelve months from the starting date, which is chosen by the petition organisers: at least seven EU countries have to submit minimum numbers of signatures. The signature collection is strictly regulated, which is why the forms ask for relevant details identifying each person who signs. Data protection rules are applied to prevent misuse of the information. Step four: if the target of a million signatures is met within the timeframe, the statements of support have to be verified by the various countries whose citizens have participated. Verification has to be completed within three months, after which Step five is to submit the initiative petition to the Commission, together with all the support information and details of the funding received for the campaign. Step six is the Commission's response, which may consist of three stages, concluding within six months whether or not it will take any action based on the petition's recommendations.

Roundup (Croatian Cidokor) at work in an olive grove. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The 'Stop Glyphosate' campaign, completed at the end of 2017, is an example of a a successfully organised ECI. The required one million signatures were collected in less than six months, well within the twelve-month deadline, so collecting was halted early. The ECI was titled 'Ban glyphosate and protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides'. The official record shows that funding for the campaign totalled €328,399. (No details are given on the EU website of how the financial resources are spent.) Despite the obvious overwhelming public support for the initiative, the Commission rejected its main proposal out of hand, concluding "that there are neither scientific nor legal grounds to justify a ban of glyphosate". However, important potential successes met the other two proposals in the ECI, with legislation proposed to ensure more transparency in the approvals process for pesticides, more reliance on independent studies regarding the safety or otherwise of pesticides (as opposed to the present system of primarily accepting industry-funded studies). The new Regulation covering these issues was published on September 6th 2019, coming into force 20 days later. It was due to come into effect after 18 months, on 27th March 2021.

The result from that ECI is not what one would have hoped, and it is horrifying to see how long the accepted proposals take to come into legislative effect. Given the amount of damage being done by pesticides in the meantime under the present system, these issues should be treated as a matter of urgency. But the ECI has still served a valuable purpose in raising awareness and showing the strength of public support for a ban on glyphosate. That is why all parallel ECIs highlighting the dangers of pesticides should be supported, even though one cannot be optimistic about the outcome in terms of the European Commission response.  

The 'Save Bees and Farmers' petition was one such campaign which urgently needed every thinking person's support. Launched on 31st July 2019, it was accepted by the European Commission on September 4th 2019, and formally approved on September 30th under registration number ECI(2019)000016 . You can see its initial presentation, including its basic funding sources, and how it progressed on the EU website. The Covid pandemic disrupted the normal processes of collecting signatures in person, and an extension was granted allowing more time for signings via the internet. The outcome was ultimately successful, with 1,154,024 signatures collected by the time the Petition closed at the end of September 2021. Activities in support of restricting the sale and use of chemical pesticides are of course continuing, The task is dauntingly huge and fraught with difficulties, but it has to be pursued for the sake of our planet and its future generations. 

 

© Vivian Grisogono MA(Oxon) 2020, updated December 31st 2021.

 

 

 

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