The draft National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (NAP) said: “We will establish a set of clear targets to support the reduction of risk associated with pesticide use by the end of 2022.” Despite the NAP originally being due for publication in 2018, the NAP is now 5 years late, and pesticide reduction targets remain unset. The Government should urgently publish the final NAP, including targets, so considered work on pesticide reduction can commence.
In this report, Baskut Tuncak – on behalf of The Pesticide Collaboration – sets out why we urgently need pesticide reduction targets and how these targets could be designed and implemented, following best practice from other countries. With a background in both chemistry and law, Tuncak is the former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Hazardous Substances, and is Director of the Toxics Use Reduction Institute at The University of Massachusetts.
Why do we need pesticide reduction targets?
Tuncak sets out some of the many benefits that setting pesticide reduction targets would have. It would be a clear indication from the government that it is a priority for them to halt and decline biodiversity loss and to limit the impacts of pesticides on human health. Without targets, there is no way of monitoring ambition or progress, and having an overarching framework can help to drive innovation towards alternatives to pesticides.
What type of targets could be set?
The report sets out the experiences of other countries, such as Denmark, Germany and France that have set reduction targets. For example, Denmark established targets for a 40% reduction in the Pesticide Load Indicator (PLI) and a 40% reduction in Pesticide Load (PL) from substances of very high concern by the end of 2015, compared to 2011. Denmark was also one of three countries that the European Commission identified as setting clearly defined, high-level, outcome-based targets.
Tuncat goes into detail about how the targets may be structured based on broad classes of substances that is both holistic and clear, and suggests that a combination of both hazard class-based targets (meaning that reduction targets could be set for groups of pesticides depending on how toxic a pesticide is) and targets for individual substances could be used.
Employing this holistic approach of broad classes complemented by individual targets would avoid a situation of regrettable substitution (where one pesticide of concern is replaced by another pesticide of similar or different concern), whilst also providing targets specific to certain substances and concerns when needed. This approach also draws on the classifications developed by international authorities, which may benefit the UK, given the limited number of pesticides evaluated by national authorities themselves, a situation expected to persist for many years.
The report details the specific reduction targets that could be set for each category if the hazard-based classes method was used:
In addition to this, there are other indirect but quantifiable targets such as:
- Percentage of farms adopting Integrated Pest Management (IPM) or organic standards in new environmental land management schemes (ELMS)
- Change in approvals for bio-controls to speed up the process
- Number of farms/facilities that exceed the UK pesticide use reduction targets
- Percentage of UK farmland largely organic or certified organic
The key recommendations for the UK government are set out in detail in the report. They include:
- Urgently develop and adopt measurable pesticide reduction targets along with indicators to track progress
- Recommended targets include, by 2030: eliminate use of all acutely toxic pesticides, reduce the use of pesticides that pose a chronic health hazard by 50%, and reduce the use of pesticides that pose an environmental hazard by 50%.
- The UK should keep pace or exceed EU pesticide reduction targets – 50% reduction in use and risk of all chemical pesticides and 50% reduction in the use of highly hazardous pesticides by 2030
- Develop appropriate complementary targets to track the uptake of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and other measures that support pesticide reduction
In December 2022, the UK signed up to the COP15 Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which included a commitment to ‘reducing the overall risk from pesticides and highly hazardous chemicals by at least half.’ Despite this commitment on the international stage, and the fact that pesticides are linked to declining biodiversity and are harmful to human health, it is shocking that the UK is yet to commit to pesticide reduction targets at home.