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Green Deal: Commission adopts new Chemicals Strategy towards a toxic free environment

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Today (14 October) the European Commission adopted the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. The strategy is the first step towards a zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment announced in the European Green Deal. The strategy will boost innovation for safe and sustainable chemicals, and increase protection of human health and the environment against hazardous chemicals.

This includes prohibiting the use of the most harmful chemicals in consumer products such as toys, childcare articles, cosmetics, detergents, food contact materials and textiles, unless proven essential for society, and ensuring that all chemicals are used more safely and sustainably. Chemicals Strategy fully recognizes the fundamental role of chemicals for human well-being and for the green and digital transition of European economy and society. At the same time it acknowledges the urgent need to address the health and environmental challenges caused by the most harmful chemicals.

In this spirit, the strategy sets out concrete actions to make chemicals safe and sustainable by design and to ensure that chemicals can deliver all their benefits without harming the planet and current and future generations. This includes ensuring that the most harmful chemicals for human health and the environment are avoided for non-essential societal use, in particular in consumer products and with regard to most vulnerable groups, but also that all chemicals are used more safely and sustainably.

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Several innovation and investment actions will be foreseen to accompany the chemicals industry through this transition. The strategy also draws the attention of member states to the possibilities of the Recovery and Resilience Facility to invest in the green and digital transition of EU industries, including in the chemical sector.

Increasing protection of health and the environment

The strategy aims to significantly increase the protection of human health and the environment from harmful chemicals, paying particular attention to vulnerable population groups.

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Flagship initiatives include in particular:

Phasing out from consumer products, such as toys, childcare articles, cosmetics, detergents, food contact materials and textiles, the most harmful substances, which include among others endocrine disruptors, chemicals that affect the immune and respiratory systems, and persistent substances such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), unless their use is proven essential for society.

Minimizing and substituting as far possible the presence of substances of concern in all products. Priority will be given to those product categories that affect vulnerable populations and those with the highest potential for circular economy.

Addressing the combination effect of chemicals (cocktail effect) by taking better account of the risk that is posed to human health and the environment by daily exposure to a wide mix of chemicals from different sources.

Ensuring that producers and consumers have access to information on chemical content and safe use, by introducing information requirements in the context of the Sustainable Product Policy Initiative.

Boosting innovation and promoting EU's competitiveness

Making chemicals safer and more sustainable is a continued necessity as well as a great economic opportunity. The strategy aims to capture this opportunity and enable the green transition of the chemicals sector and its value chains. As far as possible, new chemicals and materials must be safe and sustainable by design i.e. from production to end of life. This will help avoid the most harmful effects of chemicals and ensure the lowest possible impact on climate, resource use, ecosystems and biodiversity.

The strategy envisages the EU industry as a globally competitive player in the production and use of safe and sustainable chemicals. The actions announced in the strategy will support industrial innovation so that such chemicals become the norm on the EU market and a benchmark worldwide.

This will be done mainly by:

Developing safe-and-sustainable-by-design criteria and ensuring financial support for the commercialization and uptake of safe and sustainable chemicals; Ensuring the development and uptake of safe and sustainable-by-design substances, materials and products through EU funding and investment instruments and public-private partnerships.

Considerably stepping up enforcement of EU rules both at the borders and in the single market. ~

Putting in place an EU research and innovation agenda for chemicals, to fill knowledge gaps on the impact of chemicals, promote innovation and move away from animal testing.

Simplifying and consolidating the EU legal framework – e.g. by introducing the ‘One substance one assessment' process, strengthening the principles of 'no data, no market' and introducing targeted amendments to REACH and sectorial legislation, to name a few. The Commission will also promote safety and sustainability standards globally, in particular by leading by example and promoting a coherent approach aiming that hazardous substances that are banned in the EU are not produced for exports.

Executive Vice President for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans said: “The Chemicals Strategy is the first step towards Europe's zero pollution ambition. Chemicals are part and parcel of our daily life, and they allow us to develop innovative solutions for greening our economy. But we need to make sure that chemicals are produced and used in a way that does not hurt human health and the environment. It is especially important to stop using the most harmful chemicals in consumer products, from toys and childcare products to textiles and materials that come in contact with our food.”

Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius said: “We owe our well-being and high living standards to the many useful chemicals that people have invented over the past 100 years. However, we cannot close our eyes to the harm that hazardous chemicals pose to our environment and health. We have come a long way regulating chemicals in the EU, and with this strategy we want to build on our achievements and go further to prevent the most dangerous chemicals from entering into the environment and our bodies, and affecting especially the most fragile and vulnerable ones.”

Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “Our health should always come first. That is exactly what we have ensured in a Commission flagship initiative such as the Chemical Strategy. Chemicals are essential for our society and they must be safe and sustainably produced. But we need to be protected from the harmful chemicals around us. This strategy shows our high level of commitment and our determination to protect the health of citizens, across the EU.”

Background

In 2018, Europe was the second biggest producer of chemicals (accounting for 16.9% of sales). Chemical manufacturing is the fourth largest industry in the EU, directly employing approximately 1.2 million people. 59% of chemicals produced are directly supplied to other sectors, incl. health, construction, automotive, electronics, and textiles. Global chemicals production is expected to double by 2030, and the already widespread use of chemicals is likely to also increase, including in consumer products.

The EU has a sophisticated chemicals legislation, which has generated the most advanced knowledge base on chemicals in the world and set up scientific bodies to carry out the risk and hazard assessments of chemicals. The EU has also managed to reduce the risks to people and the environment for certain hazardous chemicals like carcinogens. Yet, EU's chemicals policy needs to be further strengthened to take into account the latest scientific knowledge and citizens concerns.

Many chemicals can harm the environment and human health, including future generations. They can interfere with ecosystems and weaken human resilience and capacity to respond to vaccines. Human biomonitoring studies in the EU point to a growing number of different hazardous chemicals in human blood and body tissue, including certain pesticides, biocides, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, plasticizers and flame retardants. Combined prenatal exposure to several chemicals has led to reduced foetal growth and lower birth rates.

Agriculture

Agriculture: Launch of an annual EU organic day

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On 24 September the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission celebrated the launch of an annual ‘EU organic day'. The three institutions signed a joint declaration establishing from now on each 23 September as EU organic day. This follows up on the Action Plan for the development of organic production, adopted by the Commission on 25 March 2021, which announced the creation of such a day to raise awareness of organic production.

At the signing and launch ceremony, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said: “Today we celebrate organic production, a sustainable type of agriculture where food production is done in harmony with nature, biodiversity and animal welfare. 23 September is also autumnal equinox, when day and night are equally long, a symbol of balance between agriculture and environment that ideally suits organic production. I am glad that together with the European Parliament, the Council, and key actors of this sector we get to launch this annual EU organic day, a great opportunity to raise awareness of organic production and promote the key role it plays in the transition to sustainable food systems.”

The overall aim of the Action Plan for the development of organic production is to boost substantially the production and consumption of organic products in order to contribute to the achievement of the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies' targets such as reducing the use of fertilisers, pesticides and anti-microbials. The organic sector needs the right tools to grow, as laid out in the Action Plan. Structured around three axes - boosting consumption, increasing production, and further improving the sustainability of the sector -, 23 actions are put forward to ensure a balanced growth of the sector.

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Actions

To boost consumption the Action Plan includes actions such as informing and communicating about organic production, promoting the consumption of organic products, and stimulating a greater use of organics in public canteens through public procurement. Furthermore, to increase organic production, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will remain a key tool for supporting the conversion to organic farming. It will be complemented by, for instance, information events and networking for sharing best practices and certification for groups of farmers rather than for individuals. Finally, to improve the sustainability of organic farming, the Commission will dedicate at least 30% of the budget for research and innovation in the field of agriculture, forestry and rural areas to topics specific to or relevant for the organic sector.

Background

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Organic production comes with a number of important benefits: organic fields have around 30% more biodiversity, organically farmed animals enjoy a higher degree of animal welfare and take less antibiotics, organic farmers have higher incomes and are more resilient, and consumers know exactly what they are getting thanks to the EU organic logo.

More information

The action plan for the development of the organic sector

Farm to fork Strategy

Biodiversity Strategy

Organic farming at a glance

Common Agricultural Policy

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Education

EU announces €25 million for education in crisis contexts and €140 million to support research in sustainable food systems

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Speaking at the Global Citizen Live event, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced that the European Union is pledging €140 million to support research in sustainable food systems and tackle food hunger via CGIAR, and a further €25m for Education Cannot Wait.  

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “We must join forces to beat the coronavirus and rebuild the world better. Europe is doing its share. From the beginning, Europeans have shipped 800 million doses of vaccines with the world, even when we did not have enough for ourselves. Now, we need to step up, to help end this pandemic globally, end hunger, give children all over the world equal chances. Team Europe has already committed to donate 500 million doses of vaccines to vulnerable countries by next summer. On top, the European Commission today commits €140m to improve global food security and reduce extreme poverty, and €25m to Education Cannot Wait, supporting education for children around the world living through conflict and crisis.”

International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen said: "We must unite to put the SDGs back on track. As we continue to witness, we can never take access to education for granted. Team Europe has to date contributed to more than 40% of the funding of Education Cannot Wait, and the new €25m contribution from the EU will further support it to reach the most vulnerable children and bring them back to education. Additionally, thanks to our substantial support of €140m to CGIAR, we will be creating opportunities for youth and women, while tackling a key challenge of today, to promote sustainable food systems. Coordinated global actions will be decisive for achieving an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable transformation of food systems.” 

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Read the full press release, the statement by President von der Leyen and the factsheet on the Team Europe COVID-19 global response.

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Agriculture

Common Agricultural Policy: How does the EU support farmers?

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From supporting farmers to protecting the environment, the EU's farm policy covers a range of different goals. Learn how EU agriculture is funded, its history and its future, Society.

What is the Common Agricultural Policy?

The EU supports farming through its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Set up in 1962, it has undergone a number of reforms to make agriculture fairer for farmers and more sustainable.

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There are about 10 million farms in the EU and the farming and food sectors together provide nearly 40 million jobs in the EU.

How is the Common Agricultural Policy funded?

The Common Agricultural Policy is funded through the EU budget. Under the EU's budget for 2021-2027, €386.6 billion has been set aside for farming. It is divided into two parts:

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  • €291.1bn for the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund, which provides income support for farmers.
  • €95.5bn for the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, which includes funding for rural areas, climate action and the management of natural resources.

How does EU agriculture look today? 

Farmers and the agriculture sector were affected by COVID-19 and the EU introduced specific measures to support the industry and incomes. Current rules on how CAP funds should be spent run until 2023 due to delays in budget negotiations. This required a transitional agreement to protect farmers’ incomes and ensure food security.

Will the reform mean a more environmentally-friendly Common Agricultural Policy?

EU agriculture accounts for about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. The reform should lead to a more environmentally friendly, fairer and transparent EU farm policy, MEPs said, after a deal was reached with the Council. Parliament wants to link CAP to the Paris agreement on climate change, while increasing support to young farmers and small and medium-sized farms. Parliament will vote on the final deal in 2021 and it will come into effect in 2023.

Agriculture policy is linked to the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy from the European Commission, which aims to protect the environment and ensure healthy food for everyone, whilst ensuring farmers’ livelihoods.

More on agriculture

Briefing 

Check legislative progress 

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