Plant protection: Less is best and lower-risk

German Environment Agency presents 5-point programme of sustainable plant protection

a hand protects crops on a fieldClick to enlarge
Plant protection agents have a negative impact on the diversity of plant and animal species.
Source: Sallenbuscher / Fotolia.com

In its 5-point programme of sustainable plant protection the German Environment Agency (UBA) urges rethinking plant protection in agricultural practice. “Chemical plant protection is without a doubt fraught with risk, as an effective product is not without its side effects for the environment. And this is why many of the products can only be authorised if they meet a high standard of environmental requirements. A particularly important factor is the reduction of the overall use of plant protection agents and promoting the use of alternatives. The products are spread in significant amounts – some 100,000 tonnes per year in Germany”, said UBA’s President Maria Krautzberger.

The widescale use of pesticides continues to decimate animal and plant life on fields and pastures because most of these toxins affect more than just pests. Take the partridge, for example: it cannot find enough food for itself and their young because plant protection agents also destroy the field herbs and insects on which it depends. Organic farming, which goes largely without pesticides, proves that things can be different. We hope that our 5-point programme will encourage a rethinking of conventional farming. We have defined five basic principles of environmentally sustainable plant protection and provide recommendations on how they can in fact be implemented.”

In addition to the need to reduce the use of plant protection agents, changes must also be made in risk assessment and risk management. In UBA’s view this includes greater consideration of the impact on biological diversity during the authorisation procedure in particular. The use of chemicals which are harmful to biodiversity must only be allowed in locations where there is sufficient untreated land area that is valuable to the environment. This could largely offset the unavoidable effects they have on fields, for example the disruption of the food chains of the partridge and other animals. Improved risk assessment also demands that individual plant protection agents are not evaluated merely in and of themselves. “It is not the individual agent”, explained Ms Krautzberger, “but rather the intensive overall application of these agents which is unsustainable and is endangering our animal and plant life.”

Ms Krautzberger also sees good reason for a risk-benefit discussion on the topic: “There is no way to get around thinking about who should bear the costs of the damage done to the environment by chemical plant protection products. Up to now this has been the taxpayer, and that is something we must change.” One possibility is to levy a charge on the use of plant protection agents, something which was recently considered by the Länder and research institutions, as it would aptly apply the polluter pays principle in the area of plant protection. The revenue must be used to design a sustainable scheme for plant protection and for compensation of the damage which has already been done to the environment.

Umweltbundesamt Headquarters

Wörlitzer Platz 1
06844 Dessau-Roßlau
Germany

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