WHAT IS PURE?
PURE stands for Pesticides Use Reduction
in Europe, and is the title of a campaign launched in May 2002 by
PAN Europe and partners. Starting at our 2000 conference, public
interest groups in 17 European countries agreed to work together
on proposing measures to reduce the impact of pesticides on human
health and the environment. We believe that these measures need
to be included in a specific European Union (EU) directive which
is legally-binding on Member States. In early 2001, a PURE Working
Group began to meet and discuss the legal basis for a suggested
PURE directive. As a result, we published the Suggested
text for a pesticides use reduction directive in Europe [pdf
800KB] in May 2002, with a detailed Explanatory
Memorandum [pdf 449KB] which describes the
factual and scientific rationale for reducing pesticide use. By
December 2003, 87 organisations in 29 countries representing the
environment, food, public health, consumers, farming and trade unions,
had signed up to support our campaign for a PURE Directive.
WHY DO WE NEED EU LEGISLATION TO REDUCE PESTICIDE
Available evidence shows that the tonnage of active ingredients
of pesticides across the European Union is increasing(1), causing
long term, low dose, combination harm to human health and biodiversity
and contamination of the environment. This is unsustainable. Water
companies have had to install expensive plant to remove pesticides
and it is now official policy in many EU member states to drive
down pesticide residues in food.
Between 1992 and 1999, annual pesticide sales in EU countries
increased from 295,289 tonnes of active ingredient to 326,870 tonnes.
Within this period, there was a slight decrease in sales between
1992 and 1995, but there has been a general increase since 1996.
Of course, pesticide sales do not accurately reflect the risks of
using these products: the type of product, its toxicity, how long
it remains in the environment, what happens to it in water and how
it reacts to different cultivation techniques are all relevant.
But because there is so much disagreement about how to measure these
risks accurately, the proposed PURE directive is a fresh initiative
to leave the arguments about risk indicators behind, to reduce exposure
to all pesticides and hence reduce direct harm to humans and organisms
in the ecosystem and protect biodiversity (indirect impacts).
A study released by the European Environment Agency (EEA) in 1995
showed just how much pesticide damage there is(2). Pesticide levels
in groundwater were found to be increasing and were estimated to
exceed the target on 75% of agricultural land in the EU and EFTA
(European Free Trade Area). Since 65% of European consumers rely
on groundwater for their drinking water supplies, PAN Europe is
determined to protect this natural resource. In the wider environment,
the impact of pesticides is just as serious. Pesticides are now
known to harm birds, fish, and beneficial insects(3). In the UK,
the use of pesticides has reduced the insect food available to chicks
and led to declines in numbers of grey partridge and corn bunting,
for example. In 1997, a report said that pesticides were a factor
in the decline of UK farmland bird species over the previous 30
In Germany, more than 130 plants found around farmland are endangered
or have disappeared. Another German study worked out how much using
pesticides cost the country’s biodiversity each year: the
figure was 10 million DM or five million Euros. In Denmark, a 2002
report found that using herbicides and insecticides at half or a
quarter their normal strength led to higher levels of farmland wildlife,
including more weed and wild flowers and insects. These impacts
are the result of intensive, conventional farming. But what about
organic farming, which the proposed PURE directive supports? Investigations
in Germany have found that areas close to organic farms have more
biodiversity than areas close to conventional farms. In a two year
study of Austrian soils, beetles were 94% more abundant in organic
fields than in conventional ones.
While there is not yet a large body of work to show organic farming
is better for human health, there are a number of studies which
implicate pesticides in poor health, for chronic, low-dose exposure
as well as acute toxicity. Children are particularly sensitive,
and this was recognised in the WHO/EEA 2002 report(4) entitled “Children
Health and Environment: A review of evidence.”. In the late
1990s, the European Federation of Agricultural Workers did a survey
of pesticide poisoning among its two million members(5). A total
of 1,230 questionnaires from individuals and organisations were
analysed, and the results showed that one in five workers thought
they had been made ill, poisoned or badly affected by pesticides.
Concerns about health were behind the EU’s decision in 1980
to set the limit for a single pesticide in drinking water at 0.1
micrograms per litre, or one part in ten billion. The scientists
who recommended this figure were acting on the precautionary principle
because they did not know about the long term effects of pesticide
mixes on human health or the environment. This is still the position
today. The precautionary principle was used again to keep maximum
residue levels (MRLs) in baby food at the detection limit.
WHAT IS THE EU DOING TO TACKLE THESE PROBLEMS?
Eleven years ago, in the 5th Environmental
Action Programme (5th EAP), the European Union pledged to achieve
a substantial reduction in the use of pesticides before the year
2000. This promised much but delivered very little. The fifth EAP
also called for farmers to convert to integrated pest management
(IPM), especially in important nature conservation areas. The programme
listed three requirements for meeting its targets: registration
of the sale and use of plant protection products (PPPs); control
of the sale and use of PPPs; and promotion of IPM. In practice,
the review of active ingredients of plant protection products being
carried out under Directive 91/414/EEC is badly delayed. Since then,
apart from measures to implement Directive 91/414/EEC and the Biocides
Directive covering non-agricultural pesticides, the EU has taken
no new legislative action to control pesticide use in Europe.
The 6th EAP, covering the period 2001-2010, aims for a more sustainable
use of pesticides and a “significant overall reduction in
risks and of the use of pesticides consistent with the necessary
crop protection”. According to the Commission’s statement
on the sixth EAP, there is now enough evidence to show that the
damage caused by pesticides is serious and growing. Contaminated
groundwater and food and the accumulation of certain pesticides
in plants and animals are acknowledged in the statement. The Commission
recognises that what happens when small amounts of pollutants collect
in human bodies is poorly understood. Consequently, the 6th EAP
recognised the need to protect vulnerable groups such as children
and the elderly.
In May 2002, the Parliament asked the Commission to propose a pesticide
use reduction directive before July 2003, but this did not happen.
The Commission finally produced its Communication “Towards
a Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides”,
in September 2002, as the first step towards the reduction of pesticide
risk and use announced in the 6th EAP. A process of stakeholder
consultation was started, in which PAN Europe has played an active
role, and it was planned that a full proposal would be developed
by the Commission in 2003, taking into consideration stakeholder
views. There were further delays and it now looks as though the
Commission’s strategy could be published as late as mid 2004.
WHAT ARE WE DEMANDING IN THE PURE CAMPAIGN?
The 6th EAP and the Thematic Strategy are only policy documents
and not legally binding. Without a binding legal instrument at EU
level, pesticide use reduction programmes will remain in place in
only a few of the Member States. This is why we argue for a legally-binding
Directive, with concrete targets and timetables.
Our key goal is to change EU law and ensure that every member state
adopts measures which would lead to dramatic reductions in pesticide
use, exposure and risks, as well as outright bans, over a short
period. Reduction of dependency and exposure would be done through
a new PURE directive. An accompanying directive would introduce
a levy on pesticide sales to pay for other ways of controlling pests.
Looking at our proposed directive in summary, it would:
- Begin with national studies evaluating consequences, costs and
benefits of various scenarios for reducing the use of pesticides
to meet the directive’s targets;
- Develop mandatory national action plans with targets and timetable
for reducing the use of pesticides (targets to cut pesticide use
by 25% within five years of the directive’s start date and
by 50% within ten years of the same date);
- Allow full access to information held on pesticides by authorities,
including information supporting specific regulatory decisions
and coordinated monitoring, data collection of the impacts of
pesticides use on human health and the environment and long-term
- Stakeholders participation in drawing up national pesticides
- Make integrated crop management (ICM) and integrated pest management
(IPM) the minimum standards for all EU farmers and other pesticide
users. Farmers would have to use these methods if they wanted
common agricultural policy (CAP) subsidies;
- Pay more CAP subsidies to farmers for agri-environment schemes,
particularly organic farming. Within ten years of the directive’s
start date, 30% of all a member state’s cultivated land
should be organic;
- Train and certify all dealers in and professional users of pesticides,
- Stop unsafe practice by inspecting pesticide application equipment
and storage facilities;
- Collect data on the production, sales and use of pesticides
and enforce record keeping and the reporting of pesticide applications
and the amount used on each crop;
- Ban pesticide applications from the air and on vulnerable land
such as conservation areas and water catchments.
WHAT HAS THE PURE CAMPAIGN ACHIEVED SO FAR?
The PURE campaign has reached agreement in a very short time on
a proposed directive which is supported by many civil society organisations.
We have also gained support for many elements of the suggested Directive
from a variety of stakeholders, including the European Parliament.
As ever, the power to propose such a Directive lies with the European
Commission. But the European Parliament can propose amendments as
well as Member States at the Council of Ministers.
PAN Europe commented on the Commission’s Communication Towards
a “Thematic Strategy” on the sustainable use of pesticides
(see under Policy Papers for our comments) and four of our members
made presentations at the first Commission stakeholder meeting held
in November 2002, putting the case that our PURE directive should
be an important part of the strategy. We produced a Joint Stakeholders’
Declaration with 14 civil society organisations, explaining our
concerns at the limitations of the Commission Communication and
our demand for PURE. This declaration was signed by two farmer organisations
and three consumer associations, indicating important support for
our position beyond environmental NGOs.
We liaised closely with supportive MEPs when the Parliament was
considering its response to the Commission Communication in early
2003 and lobbied for adoption of the most progressive response.
We were pleased when the Parliament voted for mandatory EU action
for pesticides use reduction with clear targets.
Our November 2003 policy conference for decision-makers was aimed
at highlighting the rationale for PURE and practical examples of
reduction strategies and tools at governmental level and by the
agriculture sector, with a focus on the positive Danish experiences
with their national Pesticide Action Plans.
It is also important to build the PURE concept and elements into
other relevant legislation and initiatives. For example, in the
Commission’s Environment and Health strategy, PAN Europe with
European Public Health Alliance have recommended that legislative
proposals to reduce pesticide dependency are included in the draft
action plan, and this was accepted by the Environment Committee
of the European Parliament.
IS THERE EXPERIENCE OF REDUCING PESTICIDE
USE IN EUROPE?
Yes, a number of EU members states have had pesticide use reduction
programmes for more than a decade. Sweden has run one since 1986,
and Denmark since 1987. Several other European countries have followed
suit, with Norway and Holland starting in 1991 and Finland’s
voluntary programme beginning in 1993(6).All these have achieved
big reductions in pesticide use. In Sweden the sale of active ingredient
dropped by 60% between 1981 – 1985 (the “reference period”)
and 2000; Denmark had a 59% reduction over the same time; and the
Netherlands saw a 50% cut between 1984 – 1988 and 2000.
Part of this reduction in gross usage volume is due to the adoption
of newer pesticides which need only be applied at very low doses.
Nevertheless, the success of these government programmes do make
a convincing argument for a PURE directive and setting targets and
timetables. Rather than waste even more years to agree on standard
risk indicators, these governments ran programmes which removed
much of the exposure in the first place and hence direct as well
as indirect impacts on health, environment and biodiversity. Sweden
decreased pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables and reduced
environmental risk by 63% and risks to human health by 77%. Denmark
reduced the number of times pesticides were used by 25%, a measurable
way of improving the farmland environment. These programmes have
helped farmers to reduce their production costs, by cutting back
on unnecessary pesticide application, while maintaining crop, yield
and quality. Several of these countries are now planning further
programmes for reducing pesticide use and the damage it causes over
the next five to ten years. What we need now is for EU-wide support
for PURE, tailored to meet the various needs of the wide range of
cropping systems across the EU, including the ten Accession countries
joining in 2004. This will be an important decision year for the
Commission’s strategy on a sustainable use of pesticides and
we need as many voices as possible pushing for PURE.
HOW CAN YOU SUPPORT THE PURE CAMPAIGN?
The next 6 months is the critical period to build support for
PURE as the Commission finalises its proposals for the Thematic
Strategy, followed by voting in the Council of Ministers and the
PAN Europe welcomes any feedback on our PURE proposals from all
We invite civil society organisations to join our list of signatories
and to encourage others to sign too.
We urge signatory organisations to:
(a) join us in email and telephone lobby efforts at EU level and
(b) to lobby your national government officials responsible for
pesticide policy and your elected representatives
For further details on lobbying, please contact the PAN
Europe Coordinator or PURE
1. Eurostat/NewCronos, October 2002.
2. Environment in the EU: Environmental trends, EEA, http://org.eea.eu.int/documents/3-yearly/env95/en/env954en.htm
3. Ibid. 2.
4. Children Health and Environment: A Review of Evidence, Environmental
Issue report no.29, WHO Regional Office for Europe and European
Environment Agency, Copenhagen, 2002.
5. Health and safety concerns from European survey of operators,
Pesticides News, No. 36, June 1997.
6. Comments on the European Commission’s Communication ‘Towards
a Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides’.
PAN Europe/European Environmental Bureau, September 2002.