EU intends to halve pesticide use

BRUSSELS, Belgium (Reuters) — The European Commission unveiled a plan last week to increase organic farming and cut agricultural chemical use to protect the environment.

The proposals were welcomed by environmental groups, but farmers said they would make them less flexible.

Agriculture is a contributor to climate change, producing around 10 percent of European Union greenhouse gas emissions, and is at the forefront of its consequences, with European farmers battling more intense droughts and flooding.

The EU commission, which is the bloc’s executive, proposed goals to restore natural ecosystems and steer agriculture toward its EU-wide target of reducing net emissions to zero by 2050.

“If the corona crisis has taught us anything, it is that we have to recalibrate our relationship with the natural environment, we have to become more resilient,” EU climate chief Frans Timmermans said, referring to the novel coronavirus pandemic that has raised questions about the relationship between human activity and nature.

The commission wants to cut the use of chemical pesticides by 50 percent, reduce fertilizer use by 20 percent and cut sales of antimicrobials — a category of substances that includes antibiotics — for animal and fish farming by 50 percent by 2030.

Other targets tackle land management. The share of organic farming should reach 25 percent in 2030, the plan said, while 10 percent of agricultural land must be turned over to “high diversity” landscapes, such as ponds and hedges.

The targets are not yet legally binding and will be subject to an impact assessment, the commission said. That would also apply to EU nature restoration goals to take effect in 2021, EU environment chief Virginijus Sinkevicius said.

Farming groups said organic agriculture typically produces smaller yields, and ring-fencing land as natural habitats would make farmers less able to respond to increases in demand.

The commission said a minimum share of funds from the EU’s common agricultural policy should go to “eco-schemes” that pay farmers to farm organically or capture carbon dioxide.

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