Bayer Beware | Pressure on Pesticides as Green Deal Date Looms

Photo via flickr by Sebastian Rittau CC by 2.0

This week the European Commission will reveal how it plans to work towards the pesticide reduction targets as set in the Green Deal, via the Farm to Fork strategy and also the Biodiversity strategy.  Targets in the Biodiversity strategy were specific and strong as our leak revealed on 7th May – and in line with the direction expressed in earlier drafts of the Farm to Fork strategy, which we also leaked earlier (see leaks below). However chemical giant Bayer CropScience has made clear it does not want any binding legislation as part of the new EU Biodiversity Strategy. But with specific numbers for reduction in the use of pesticides and fertilizers in the biodiversity strategy in particular, will the agrichemical lobby succeed in dampening down targets as we head towards the great EU Green Deal reveal on the 20th May?   

This week will be an exciting one for Climate Commissioner Frans Timmermans. After careful consultation the European Commission will reveal its highly anticipated Farm to Fork Strategy as well as the new EU Biodiversity Strategy. These will be the first actual policy proposals since Commission president Ursula von der Leyen presented her Green Deal to the world in the December 2019.

Never before has there come such an ambitious climate policy proposal out of the center of European power in the Rue de la Loi in Brussels. By 2050 the European Commission wants to transform the EU into the first climate neutral continent, by 2030 decrease the emissions of the transport sector by 90 percent, renovate offices, start taxing jet fuel, connect nature preserves and significantly reduce the use of pesticides in agriculture. But despite all the environmental ambition set out in the 24-page document, nothing is sure yet as to how this will all materialize.

Bayer CropScience

Frans Timmermans will have to immediately start weaving a web of policy proposals, strategies and legislation to actually make the Green Deal a reality. After presenting a Climate Law in the EU-parliament at the beginning of March, the new Farm to Fork Strategy and a renewed EU Biodiversity Strategy are up next.

To get a feeling what farmers, food companies, the chemical industry or environmental organizations practically envision how to reduce pesticide use in Europe, the Commission has set up a consultation. Among the total of 654 entries on the EU-website within the feedback period of four weeks, a respectable amount came from farmers’ organizations from across Europe.

Industry has also made its presence known. Bayer Crop Science has been very outspoken about the fact it does not want binding rules on pesticide use. In the position paper the German multinational chemical giant to the Commission it states that all products the company produces are in fact ‘essential tools’ for European farmers in order to remain competitive on the world market. ‘Bayer took note of the European Commission’s intention to reduce dependency on chemical pesticides,’ Teresa Babuscio writes on behalf of Bayer on 16 March. ‘We believe that the sustainable use of pesticides should reduce the risk and impact of the use of pesticide on the environment, rather than their use’ as such. Bayer therefor particularly recommends ‘measures to ensure that new innovative solutions (both chemical and biological) are brought faster to the EU market’ – instead of elaborating how to implement their reduction sustainably.

Read Bayer’s full submission to Farm to Fork here 

Farm to Fork

How exactly pesticide reduction targets will materializing is not yet fully clear. A Commission spokesperson refuses to give further explanation on the matter – but Raphael Weyland of the Brussels branche of Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU) says: ‘Making the commitments that are outlined in the Green Deal more operational and binding, is one of the big challenges. As to pesticides I guess there will be more details in the Farm to Fork Strategy, but we haven’t seen leaks to it. Normally you also could think about adjusting existing legislation such as Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive to have the reduction obligation binding. But I haven’t heard the Commission talking about this either.’

The Green Deal itself states that the Farm to Fork Strategy will address the use of pesticides and fertilizers in agriculture. Also EU member states will have to play an important role, as the Commission expects of national governments that their ‘strategic plans will need to reflect an increased level of ambition to reduce significantly the use and risk of chemical pesticides, as well as the use of fertilizers and antibiotics. The Commission will identify the measures, including legislative, needed to bring about these reductions based on a stakeholder dialogue.’

Read Bayer’s full submission to the Farm to Fork strategy

Industry Associations

Several big industry associations have thrown their weight into the stakeholder dialogues that has been underway through the several consultation processes. As one of the major players in the food business, it matters what FoodDrinkEurope thinks. Located at the edge of the Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels, the organization resides at a comfortable walking distance from the European Commission.

On behalf of multinational companies such as Cargill, Coca Cola, Nestlé and Unilever deputy-director Dirk Jacobs of FoodDrinkEurope writes about the Farm to Fork Strategy that ‘envisaged measures to significantly reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers should be pre-assessed diligently, since these policies will have an impact on yields, quality, raw material prices and food safety, affecting not only farmers but also food manufacturers, in the absence of credible alternatives. EU policies (e.g. CAP, research, food safety) should support the quest for viable alternatives to chemical pesticides and fertilizers, through facilitating research and innovation, improving market access procedures and promoting uptake by farmers.’
German industries

The Bunderverband der Deutschen Industrie (BDI) is an umbrella organizations representing the German industrial sector. It is made up of other sectoral lobbies – one of which is the Verband der Chemischen Industrie (VCI). VCI, in turn, has an impressive membership, amongst which influential multinationals such as BASF, the Leverkusen based parent company Bayer A.G., as well as the pharma and crop science divisions of that company. BDI has come forward during the consultation process for the EU Biodiversity Strategy, saying that German industries ‘reject the idea of making the voluntary targets anchored in the current strategy binding at the European level’, and ‘reject a stronger focus on biodiversity’.

Bayer itself argues in a position paper for a revision of the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive and recommends the European Commission encourage member states to focus on reducing risks concerning the pesticides; ‘whilst ensuring farmers have access to a wide ranging toolbox of crop protection solutions, continue to promote the uptake of Integrated Pest Management principles by all farmers across Europe, considering that such principles will vary across the EU due to the diversity of agricultural production, climatic conditions, soil structures and pest pressure. (…) Europe is part of a global food system wherein European policy affects policy development elsewhere and vice versa. Sustainability challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss and food security cannot be solved unilaterally: cooperation at international level is essential.’

In just a few short days, it will be clear what the EU Commission has decided on both the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies. Will the agri-chemical lobby succeed in weakening the targets? Or will the Commission hold firm? 


LEAK – EU Biodiversity Strategy Sets Commitments for Fertilizers, Pesticides, Organics

LEAK – Farm2Fork Draft Action Plan

LEAK – Ag Lobby Tries to Derail Farm to Fork

Farm to Fork submissions

40 Organisations Demand April Publication for Farm to Fork, Biodiversity Strategies

Poking Holes in Farm to Fork: Small Farmers have Solutions

Poking Holes in Farm to Fork: Health Groups Take The Strategy’s Temperature

Poking Holes in Farm to Fork: Environmental Groups Seek a Coherent Vision


EU Pesticide Risk Assessment Practices Slammed in New Study

350,000 Tonnes of Pesticides Sold in EU Each Year – Still No Clear Picture of the Risks

Pesticides under Pressure | EU Parliament and Progressive Places Putting Biodiversity First

Pesticides, Tear Gas and History | From WW1 to Today’s Streets

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About Hans Wetzels 34 Articles

Hans Wetzels (1982) is a Cultural Scientist and freelance journalist from the Netherlands and living in Berlin. His work appeared in well-known Dutch magazines such as De Groene Amsterdammer, OneWorld Magazine and
international outlets like Africa Renewal, MO* and Knack. The research Hans does focuses on trade policy, food system analyses and development.