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EU Clamps Down on Pesticides

FILE: European Union Commissioner for Environment and Oceans Virginijus Sinkevicius speaks during a press conference on the use of pesticides at the EU headquarters in Brussels on June 22, 2022.

COPENHAGEN - The EU environment agency on Wednesday urged member states to reduce pesticide usage over concern that sales of harmful chemicals remain strong despite its effects on human health and biodiversity.

The warning comes amid findings that one or more pesticides were detected above thresholds of concern at 22 percent of all monitoring sites in rivers and lakes across Europe in 2020, the European Environment Agency (EEA) said.

"From 2011 to 2020, pesticide sales in the EU-27 remained relatively stable at around 350,000 tons per year," the EEA said in a new report, citing data from Eurostat.

Pesticides are widely used in the agriculture sector but also in forestry, along roads and railways, and in urban areas such as public parks, playgrounds or gardens.

The insecticide imidacloprid and the herbicide metolachlor showed the highest absolute number of exceedances across Europe, primarily in northern Italy and northeastern Spain.

In groundwater, the herbicide atrazine caused the most exceedances - even though it has been banned since 2007.

Human exposure to chemical pesticides, primarily through food but also through the air in agriculture-intense regions, is linked to the development of cardiac, respiratory and neurological disease, as well as cancer, the report said.

"Worryingly, all of the pesticides monitored ... were detected in higher concentrations in children than in adults," the EEA said.

In a study conducted in Spain, Latvia, Hungary, Czech Republic and the Netherlands between 2014 and 2021, at least two pesticides were detected in the bodies of 84 percent of survey participants.

Pesticide pollution is also driving biodiversity loss across the continent, causing significant declines in insect populations and threatening the critical role they play in food production.

A German study cited in the report found a 76 percent decline in flying insects in protected zones over a period of 27 years.

It identified pesticides as one of the reasons for the decline.

According to the EEA, 83 percent of agricultural soils tested in a 2019 study contained pesticide residues.

The agency urged the EU's 27 members to cut dependency on pesticides.

"We could reduce our dependency on chemical pesticides to maintain crop yields and our overall pesticide use volumes by shifting to alternative models of agriculture, such as agroecology," it said.

A separate report published Wednesday by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) showed that in 2021, 96 percent of food samples analyzed were within legal limits for pesticide residue.