Saving Wildlife and Biodiversity: Looking to the Future

Your support is needed! November 2019 saw the launch of the European Citizens' Initiative petition under the title 'Save Bees and Farmers'. Please sign it, if you haven't done so already.

The petition is 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 are 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. 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 total 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 is 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 alarming to see how long the accepted proposals are taking 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 is one such campaign which urgently needs 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 follow its progress here on the EU website. Signature collection started on 25th November 2019, and can be done online, or on a paper version of the petition. All the details are on the 'Save bees and farmers' website, where you can sign online or download the print version. The website is in English, German, French, Italian and Spanish. Please note that if you sign online, you must complete Step 2, not just the form on the homepage; you can skip that first form by clicking on "Skip and go directly to signing the initiative in step 2" (under "Confirm and continue").  

If you haven't already, PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION NOW AND SHARE IT AMONG ALL YOUR FRIENDS AND ACQUAINTANCES!

© Vivian Grisogono MA(Oxon) 2020

Footnote: In January 2020, new rules came into force to make European Citizens' Initiatives easier to access. A conference scheduled for 6th March 2020 in Brussels titled 'European Citizens' Initiative 2.0: Design, Engage, Impact' invites interested parties to learn all about it from experts and in interactive sessions.

 

 

 

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