Social Manifesto on Pesticides: organisations call on dutch government to protect people and nature from harmful effects of pesticides

People and nature are not protected from the harmful effect of pesticides. So reads the alarming observation of a broad coalition of organisations in their manifesto in The Netherlands. The initiators are the Parkinson's Association, the trade union FNV and environmental organisation Natuur & Milieu. The manifesto has been signed by 36 organisations. The organisations are deeply concerned about the far-reaching effects of pesticides on animals, plants and water quality. But also about the health damage of these pesticides to farmers, workers and people living near fields and flower fields. The manifesto has been presented to the Parliament on April.

The organisations want the precautionary principle to apply. This means that in case of doubt or uncertainty about the harmful effects of a pesticide, the pesticide should not be allowed on the market. 'Pesticides pollute water, air and soil, and damage biodiversity. Toxic substances are found in the bodies of farmers, but also in babies' nappies. Therefore, we call on the government to take responsibility and ensure that nature recovers and everyone in the Netherlands can work, live and work healthily,' the organisations said. See their recommendation in the translation below.

Here is the english translation of the document: Social Manifesto Pesticides, April 2023, For a healthy, green and safe Netherlands

In today's large-scale industrial agriculture and horticulture system the efficiency of food production is paramount. The highest possible yield, at the lowest possible cost. The downside of this is that large amounts of chemical pesticides are used to control diseases and pests in crops.

As a result, we find toxins everywhere in our environment that don't belong: on food, in house dust, in urine, faeces and the hair of farmers, in soil plants in the garden and park and in (drinking) water. In short: humans, animals and the environment are exposed to a whole range of pesticides. The burden of proof that all these substances in the environment affect health and biodiversity is increasing. And that is very worrying, because the Netherlands is in a biodiversity crisis. Since 1900, native populations of plants and animals have declined by as much as 85%. In agricultural areas, biodiversity has even decreased by 50% over the past 30 years. In half of our ditches and canals, the permitted concentration of pesticides is exceeded. This has significant effects on aquatic life. Aquatic organisms get sick or die. Ecosystems are weakened as a result.

But human health is also threatened. Farmers, gardeners and workers who work with pesticides are at risk of health problems. Workers are insufficiently protected from exposure to harmful pesticides. Farmers who work with pesticides have a higher risk of developing the fastest-growing brain disease parkinson's than other people. In addition, there is increasing evidence of a relationship between pesticide exposure and various cancers, lung diseases, reproductive problems and immunity problems.

On top of this, pesticides are often used in combination. These cocktails of pesticides most likely cause more damage to biodiversity and health than individual agents. However, hardly any research into this, and these cocktails also play no role in the authorisation of pesticides. Current pesticide authorisation rules are not sufficient to reduce the risk of brain diseases, such as parkinson's disease, properly. Chronic health effects are not in the picture because they often only manifest themselves later in life and research focuses on the short-term focus.

In short: concerns about the effects and risks of using pesticides in agriculture and horticulture are high. Action is needed!

1. Apply the precautionary principle

Recent decades have shown that unforeseen adverse effects occur from the application of chemical pesticides, such as insect mortality and increased risk of parkinson's disease. We therefore call on the government, in case of doubt or unclear about the possible harmful effects of pesticides on health or the ecosystem, ban them. Prevention is better than cure.

2. Ensure a healthy and safe living environment

We call on the Dutch government to make efforts to tighten the authorisation rules for pesticides, also in a European context. For instance ensure that the effects of substances on brain cells are measured and allocate extra money for this. We call for research into the risks of the most common cocktails of toxic chemicals on health and the ecosystem. This is because different substances can, by their chemical action may in fact have a stronger effect collectively than each individually or than the sum of effects. Ensure that wide spray-free zones are established between agricultural plots and residential areas. Establishing such zones protects people from health damage, but also those who already have parkinson's disease. Indeed, it was recently shown that the disease process accelerates with continued exposure to pesticides.

3. Ensure a safe working environment

Employers are legally obliged, together with employees, to map the risks of all pesticides used in a Risk Inventory & Evaluation (RI&E). In addition, they must make a Plan of Action on how to address these risks. Make sure that the Labour Inspectorate better ensures that these RI&Es are drawn up in consultation with the workers. In addition, we call for the number of inspections on the implementation of the measures in the Plans of Action, for the protection of workers. We further call on the government to make it oblige them to remove also from substances suspected of having carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic properties (CMR) to register which workers are exposed to them. The aim of all this is to reduce workers' exposure to pesticides and protect them to the maximum extent possible.

4. Protect biodiversity and water quality
Ensure a rapid transition to nature-inclusive and organic farming systems in which use of chemical pesticides is greatly reduced, and agriculture and nature reinforce each other. Take measures to prevent the run-off and leaching of pesticides to water. Stop using chemical pesticides in areas where drinking water is extracted, to prevent further pollution of our drinking water. Ban pesticides in protected nature reserves, including in agricultural plots within them. Ensure that no pesticides are allowed with substances that cannot be measured by regular methods are measurable in water. These so-called non-testable substances are very harmful in small concentrations, but are not measured in the monitoring programmes until they are well above the standard. With modelling studies based on consumption figures of the pesticides, it has been determined that 90% of environmental damage is caused by substances that are not measurable. The consequence of this blind spot is that we simply do not know how bad state our water is in.

5. Accelerate the transition to nature-inclusive and organic agriculture
The government is working to reduce reliance on chemical pesticides, especially of the most harmful ones, but this is not going fast enough, the Health Council concludes. A faster system change to nature-inclusive and organic agriculture is therefore needed. Make more use of knowledge and solutions from organic and nature-inclusive agriculture and commit to more research within the context of these farming principles. Invest in nature-inclusive training for farmers and crop advisers. Provide financial support for farmers so they can make the transition and make agreements in the chain for a robust earning model for nature-inclusive farmers. In addition, policy is needed to help the whole sector make the transition. Research the Danish model where, according to the polluter pays principle, a tax on pesticides based on their toxicity. Ensure proper digital registration of pesticide use at crop level. Encourage and organise professional comparison of use of and environmental burden by pesticides; this will create more awareness and action perspective among farmers and their advisors.

6. Support the European goal of 50% less pesticides by 2030 and vote against the renewal of glyphosate

We call on the government, in line with the previous call by more than 700 scientists, to support the European goal of reducing pesticide use and risk by at least 50% by 2030. In addition, commit to ensuring that by 2030, the pesticides that may pose serious risks to humans and the environment - the European list of Candidates for Substitution - are banned. Prevent such pesticides from being authorised in the meantime. Finally, we urge the government to say goodbye once and for all to the socially highly controversial pesticide glyphosate. It is highly harmful to bees, aquatic life and soil flora. According to the WHO, it is probably carcinogenic and there are major concerns that glyphosate increases the risk of parkinson's disease. We call on the government by the end of 2023, along with other countries such as Germany, against the European extension of authorisation of glyphosate. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide to control weeds, but there are good options to do it with technology and machinery. Signed by 36 organisations, PAN Netherlands included.

"This is my story. In my youth, I worked for a lily grower for six weeks. I doubt sincerely whether my exposure to poison was only minor. I think it was huge. In hot weather, we worked shirtless (to get a tan). And the coolness behind the sprayer was wonderful. So in retrospect, I inhaled pesticides and was exposed to them through skin contact to it. I don't know which pesticides were used. I was given the Parkinson's diagnosis when I was 29 years old and have had Parkinson's for 19 years now." F. Roos

"I suspected that my shortness of breath was related to the pesticide against fungi and mites that was sprayed in the climate cells on Friday, before the weekend. By Monday, everything was greasy, including your skin and hair. We had no protective mask or gloves. I was becoming increasingly short of breath. When I suddenly developed facial paralysis, my husband was shocked." Climate cell worker N. Macrojon (47 years old)

The manifesto in Dutch can be found here.

© Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe), Rue de la Pacification 67, 1000, Brussels, Belgium, Tel. +32 2 318 62 55

Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe) gratefully acknowledges the financial support from the European Union, European Commission, DG Environment, LIFE programme. Sole responsibility for this publication lies with the authors and the funders are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.