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EC Caves to Farmer/Industry Requests to Allow Spread of Dangerous Pest

15 March 2012

EUROPE - On explicit request of the dominant farmers unions and the pesticide industry, the department taking care of health and consumers issues within the European Commission has proposed to dismantle the European safety system by removing the obligation on countries and farmers to contain the spread of a highly destructive maize pest - the Western corn rootworm (WCR).

This move is likely to lead to a massive increase in pesticide use unless the simple agronomic practice of crop rotation is implemented as a countermeasure.

The WCR is a pest of maize that has been accidentally introduced into Europe and is now spreading across the continent. Its soil-dwelling larvae damage the maize roots and if unchecked can lead to significant yield losses, reports WWF.

However, if adequate agricultural practices, such as crop rotation, are put in place the pest can be controlled.

Since 2003 the EU has had in place a plant health protection system that requires Member States and farmers to control the pest. On request of the dominant farmers unions, maize growers associations and certain Member States’ governments, DG SANCO has now proposed the dismantling of this system, allowing Member States and farmers to deal with the problem as they see fit. The removal of this obligation is likely to result in an even faster spread of the pest, which might lead farmers to increase the use of pesticides significantly.

“It is utterly cynical for dominant farmers unions to be promoting the spread of a pest in order to promote the business interests of the pesticide industry, rather than defend the long term interest of the farmers they are supposed to represent” says François Veillerette president of PAN Europe.

Maize, mainly used for animal feed, covers about 14 million hectares in the EU. On average, around 22 per cent of maize cultivation in the EU is on monoculture (without crop rotation). Maize is one of the most intensively grown crops and is widely linked to a range of environmental problems ranging from biodiversity loss to overconsumption and pollution of water to heavy pesticide use. The chemical control of the corn rootworm is based on soil insecticides such as those used in seed treatment (which is known to be toxic to bees) and aerial spraying with broad spectrum insecticides such as pyrethroids and organophosphates (which kills flying insects, contaminates surface water and soils far away from the application).

“In order to control the newly established WCR without negative environmental impact, the EU should strongly back farmers moving toward sustainable farming, giving many other positive effects. The WCR can be easily brought under control by the simple use of crop rotation which can be implemented with different solutions according the agronomic and socio-economic conditions. Research on the best rotation solutions in the Member States should be immediately promoted along with the dissemination of the results” says Dr Lorenzo Furlan, Veneto Agricoltura, Italy.

Crop rotation has proven a good agricultural practice in traditional, conventional and organic agriculture for its feasibility and multiple beneficial effects (e.g. more efficient nutrient use over the years, better soil structures and better pest management).

WWF believes that a meaningful response to the WCR pest crisis has to be based on the following combination of actions:

  • Maintain the obligation on Member States and individual farmers to take appropriate action wherever the pest is present or likely to be spreading;
  • Introduce mandatory crop rotation as part of the “greening component” of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post 2013;
  • Swiftly and correctly implement the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive which requires an obligatory move toward Integrated Pest Management;
  • Use the newly proposed European Innovation Partnership to promote research, experimentation and uptake of biological control measures and of risk prevention through appropriate agronomic practices.

TheCropSite News Desk

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