UN Special Rapporteur advices Italy to significantly reduce pesticide use

On september 20th UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights Marcos Orellano presented his report on pesticide use in Italy. He congratulates Italy with steps taken to reduce pesticides, but expresses his grave concern on the export from Italy of hazardous pesticides that are not approved for use in the European Union. He is also seriously concerned by the increase in the volume of pesticides used in regions where prosecco is grown, and particularly by the presence of hazardous pesticides in children’s playgrounds near agricultural areas. He advises the governemt to introduce buffer strips to protect vulnarable people and areas and water courses from the serious risks and harm from pesticide spray drift. He also aks for steps to significantly reduce the volume of pesticides used in Italy, in line with the precautionary principle.

 

Buffer Strips

The report points at the importance of buffer strips, a hot topic in the current discussion on the new EU Pesticide Reduction Regulation. In 2019 a draft National Action Plan for Pesticides was presented in Italy. This plan should be concluded soon as the old action plan expired in 2018 and EU Directive 2009/128/CE requires a new plan every five years.The draft establishes that use of pesticides in agricultural areas close to inhabited areas or vulnerable populations is forbidden at a distance less than 50, 40, 20, 15 or 5 metres, depending on the classification of the pesticide. “These no-spray safeguards are indispensable to protect vulnerable people and areas, including schools, playgrounds and hospitals, nature reserves and archaeological sites. Buffer zones are also key to prevent pollution of surface waters and groundwaters.”

 

Pesticide Free Towns

The rapporteur welcomes the initiative by several Italian municipalities to join the European Pesticide Free Towns Network. The Network aims to minimize the use of pesticides and replace them with existing sustainable alternatives. The objective is safeguarding the health of all and the environment, and improving quality of life. Interesting element is that in 2021, in a ruling related to the city of Conegliano, located in the Prosecco wine production area, the Council of State confirmed that municipalities were entitled to ban the use of pesticides.

 

The full report

Visit to Italy - Report of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes

By Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights – Marcos Orellano

Below are the paragraphs in the report that are specifically on pesticide use:

 

Findings on Pesticides

69. The Special Rapporteur is deeply troubled by the exportation by Italian companies of pesticides that are not approved for use in the European Union because they are hazardous to human health and the environment. In 2018, Italy was the one of the main exporting countries of the European Union of banned hazardous pesticides by volume.62 These exports mostly include trifluralin, followed by ethalfluralin, both of which are banned in the European Union because they are suspected carcinogens.

70. The Special Rapporteur notes with concern that the national action plan for pesticides expired in 2018, and no new plan has yet been adopted. This situation and delay are incompatible with European Union Directive 2009/128/CE on pesticides, which requires that national action plans be reviewed at least every five years. According to information received, the draft text of a new plan was presented for consultation in 2019. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the news that the new draft plan will reportedly prohibit online sales of pesticides to secure stronger controls.

71. Another key issue for the draft plan is the dimensions of buffer zones. The draft plan establishes that the use of pesticides in agricultural areas close to inhabited areas or vulnerable populations is forbidden at a distance less than 50, 40, 20, 15 or 5 metres, depending on the classification of the pesticide. These no-spray safeguards are indispensable to protect vulnerable people and areas, including schools, playgrounds and hospitals, nature reserves and archaeological sites. Buffer zones are also key to prevent pollution of surface waters and groundwaters.

72. While according to information received sales of pesticides in Italy have decreased during the past decade, the Special Rapporteur is concerned at the significant increase in the volume of pesticides used in Veneto, particularly in the areas growing prosecco wine. The area is one of the biggest consumers of pesticides per hectare in the country, using an equivalent of one cubic meter of pesticides per inhabitant per year.

73. The Special Rapporteur is also concerned about the situation in the South Tyrol area. According to information received, hazardous pesticides have been found in children’s playgrounds near agricultural areas. Such hazardous pesticides include chlorpyrifos-methyl and chlorpyrifos-ethyl, which are associated with neurodevelopmental disorders in children. This hazardous pesticide is banned in the European Union, but Italy requested and received a derogation (exemption) for its use. The Italian Government stated that the last derogation of 99 days was granted in 2021 and that no other would be granted.

74. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the initiative taken by several Italian municipalities to join the European Pesticide Free Towns Network. The Network aims to minimize the use of pesticides and replace them with existing sustainable alternatives, with the objective of safeguarding the health of all and the environment, and improving quality of life. In that connection, in 2021, in a ruling related to the city of Conegliano, located in the Prosecco wine production area, the Council of State confirmed that municipalities were entitled to ban the use of pesticides.

 

Conclusions

90. In the past, Italy has shown strong leadership in environmental matters, as when it became a pioneer in the prohibition of asbestos in 1992. It is therefore all the more important that Italy increase its efforts to redress the adverse impacts of decades of industrialization on the enjoyment of human rights.

91. In this regard, the Special Rapporteur celebrates the approval of a new law by the Italian parliament in February 2022 mandating that the State must safeguard the environment, biodiversity and natural ecosystems in the interest of future generations, changing the Constitution to state that private industry and private economic initiatives must not damage human health or the environment. Now is the time for the Government to move from words to action.

95. Italy has taken some positive steps regarding the use of pesticides, which have led to a decrease in the sales of pesticides over the past decade. However, the Special Rapporteur is gravely concerned by the export from Italy of hazardous pesticides that are not approved for use in the European Union. This is a blatant case of double standards that is leading to the abhorrent exposure and exploitation of local farming communities and children in the fields of the global south. The Special Rapporteur is also seriously concerned by the increase in the volume of pesticides used in regions where prosecco is grown, such as the South Tyrol and Veneto Regions, and particularly by the presence of hazardous pesticides in children’s playgrounds near agricultural areas.

 

Recommendations

(a) Ratify the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants;

(b) Put an end to the abhorrent double standards that make it possible to export banned, highly hazardous pesticides, and exercise leadership at the regional level to secure a European Union-wide ban on the export of prohibited pesticides;

(n) Take steps to significantly reduce the volume of pesticides used in Italy, in line with the precautionary principle;

(o) Ensure that buffer zones are appropriately sized to protect people, waters and sensitive areas – including vegetable gardens and certified organic crop cultivation – from the serious risks and harms of pesticide spray drift;

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