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#Pesticides in food: What is the European Parliament doing to help?

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Grapes fruits washed in a kitchen sink © CC0 Photo by Manki Kim on Unsplash MEPs want to ensure your food is always safe to eat © CC0 Photo by Manki Kim on Unsplash 

Europeans are concerned about pesticide residues in food and their potential effect on health. Find out how MEPs are tackling the issue.

About 50% of the food tested by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2016 contained pesticide residues, with 3.8% exceeding legal limits. In the EU, pesticides and the active substances in them are carefully monitored, but in recent years, concern has been raised over the approval procedure, especially after controversy about the renewal of glyphosate approval in 2017.

To better protect people’s health the European Parliament wants action to improve the management of pesticide use in the EU.

More transparent pesticide approval procedure

In February 2018, Parliament appointed a special committee to look into the EU’s authorization procedure for pesticides. On 16 January, MEPs backed the committee’s final report pushing for more transparent procedures to ensure political accountability.

MEPs recommend that:

  • The public should be granted access to studies used in the authorisation procedure;
  • manufacturers asking for substance approval should register all regulatory studies in a public register to ensure all relevant information is taken into account;
  • scientific experts should review studies on carcinogenicity of glyphosate and maximum residue levels for soils and surface water should be set;
  • pesticides and their active substances should be tested thoroughly, taking into account cumulative effects and long-term toxicity,and;
  • pesticides should no longer be used over a wide area near schools, childcare facilities, playing fields, hospitals, maternity hospitals and care homes.

Better access to studies on food chain safety

In December 2018 Parliament voted in favour of an update of the general food law regulation covering food safety in EU at all stages of the food chain, including animal health, plant protection and production.

The proposed new rules aim to improve public access to studies used by the European Food Safety Agency in the risk assessment of food products, and to ensure the studies are reliable, objective and independent.

A common European registry would be set up for commissioned studies, so the European Food Safety Agency can check whether companies are suppressing any unfavourable studies. If there is reason to doubt the evidence provided by the applicants, the agency could request additional studies.

Endocrine disruptors

Endocrine disrupting chemicals are used in agriculture to protect plants from pests by interfering with growth or reproduction. They may affect human health and be linked to hormone-related cancers, diabetes and infertility.

In October 2017, MEPs blocked the European Commission’s proposal that would have exempted some chemicals in pesticides from being identified as endocrine disrupting chemicals, even though some were actually designed to attack an organism’s endocrine system.

Promoting alternatives

Europeans bought €30.7 billion worth of organic food in 2016, an increase of almost 50% from 2012. In 2018, MEPS updated existing rules on organic production and labelling in response to major changes to the sector.

In 2017, MEPS adopted a resolution calling on the Commission to draw up proposals to fast-track the evaluation, authorisation and registration of low-risk pesticides.

Environment

Greening of transport 'must provide realistic alternatives'

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In an opinion adopted at its June plenary session, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) says that the energy transition must – without denying its objectives – consider the economic and social characteristics of all parts of Europe and be open to an ongoing dialogue with civil society organizations.

The EESC supports the greening of transport, but stresses that the energy transition must be fair and provide viable and realistic alternatives that take account of the specific economic and social territorial features and needs of all parts of Europe, including rural areas.

This is the main message of the opinion drafted by Pierre Jean Coulon and Lidija Pavić-Rogošić and adopted at the Committee's June plenary session. In its assessment of the 2011 White Paper on Transport, which aims to break the transport system's dependence on oil without sacrificing its efficiency and compromising mobility, the EESC takes a firm stand.

Limiting modes of transport is not an option: the aim should be co-modality, not modal shift. In addition, the ecological transition must both be socially fair and preserve the competitiveness of European transport, with full implementation of the European Transport Area, as part of the full implementation of the Single Market. Delays in this respect are regrettable.

Commenting on the adoption of the opinion on the sidelines of the plenary, Coulon said: "Curbing mobility is not an alternative. We support any measures aimed at making transport more energy efficient and reducing emissions. Europe is going through a period of headwinds, but this should not lead to changes of course in terms of social and environmental expectations of the various European initiatives."

Continuous consultation of civil society organizations

The EESC encourages an open, continuous and transparent exchange of views on the implementation of the White Paper between civil society, the Commission and other relevant players such as national authorities at different levels, stressing that this will improve civil society buy-in and understanding, as will useful feedback to policy makers and those carrying out implementation.

"The Committee draws attention to the importance of securing the support of civil society and stakeholders, including through participatory dialogue, as suggested in our previous opinions on this matter", added Pavić-Rogošić. "A good understanding and broad acceptance of strategic goals will be extremely helpful in achieving results."

The EESC also highlights the need for more robust social evaluation and reiterates the statement made in its 2011 opinion on the Social aspects of EU transport policy, urging the European Commission to put in place the necessary measures to ensure the harmonisation of social standards for intra-EU traffic, bearing in mind that an international level playing field is also needed in this respect. Establishing an EU Social, Employment and Training Observatory in the transport sector is a priority.

Monitoring progress in a timely and effective manner

With reference to the evaluation process for the 2011 White Paper, the EESC points out that the procedure was launched late and that the Committee was only involved because it expressly asked to be.

The Commission should have a clear plan for monitoring its strategic documents from the beginning and publish progress reports on their implementation on a regular basis, so that it is possible to assess in a timely manner what has been achieved and what has not and why, and to act accordingly.

In the future, the EESC wishes to continue to benefit from regular progress reports on the implementation of Commission strategies and to contribute effectively to transport policy.

Background

The 2011 White Paper Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system set the paramount objective of European transport policy: establishing a transport system that underpins European economic progress, enhances competitiveness and offers high-quality mobility services while using resources more efficiently.

The Commission has acted on almost all of the policy initiatives planned in the White Paper. However, the oil dependency of the EU transport sector, although clearly decreasing, is still high. Progress has also been limited in addressing the problem of road congestion, which persists in Europe.

Several initiatives in the context of the White Paper have improved the social protection of transport workers, but civil society and research organisations still fear that developments like automation and digitalisation could negatively affect future working conditions in transport.

The needs of EU transport policy are therefore largely still relevant today, in particular in terms of increasing the environmental performance and competitiveness of the sector, modernizing it, improving its safety and deepening the single market.

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Environment

Commissioner Sinkevičius in Sweden to discuss forests and biodiversity

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Commissioner Sinkevičius is visiting Sweden today (14 June) to discuss the Commission's upcoming EU Forest Strategy and the proposals on EU-driven deforestation and forest degradation with ministers, members of the Swedish Parliament, NGO and academia representatives, and other actors. The Forest Strategy, as announced in the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy,  will cover the whole forest cycle and promote the multifunctional use of forests, aiming at ensuring healthy and resilient forests that contribute significantly to biodiversity and climate goals, reduce and respond to natural disasters, and secure livelihoods. A key deliverable under the European Green Deal, the Biodiversity Strategy also pledged to plant 3 billion trees by 2030. The Commission aims to secure this year during COP 15 global meeting on biodiversity an international agreement to address the nature crisis similar to the Paris Agreement on climate.

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Copernicus: First automated pollen measurements allow cross-checking forecasts in several European countries in near real-time

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A partnership between the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service and the European Aeroallergen Network has taken the first step in verifying pollen forecasts near-real-time through EUMETNET’s automated pollen programme “Autopollen”.

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) has announced the first step in a joint initiative with the European Aeroallergen Network (EAN) to automated pollen monitoring in several European countries. Under the auspices of the Network of European National Meteorological Services (EUMETNET), various pollen monitoring sites have been equipped with automated observation capability as part of the “Autopollen” programme led by the Swiss Meteorological Service MeteoSwiss. On sites with automated pollen observations, forecasts can be checked in near-real-time whilst elsewhere they can only be evaluated at the end of the season.

CAMS, which is implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) on behalf of the European Commission, currently provides four-day forecasts of five common pollen types; birch, olive, grass, ragweed and alder using sophisticated computer modelling. The automated pollen monitoring system is being trialled across 20 sites in Switzerland, Bavaria/Germany, Serbia, Croatia, and Finland, with plans to expand to other European countries.

These are the first routine automated pollen observations to have become publicly available which means that anyone who uses CAMS pollen forecasts, whether via an app or tool, or directly on the website, can check the daily forecast updates against the incoming observations and assess how accurate they are. While the system is still in an early stage, scientists predict that it will help significantly on the evaluation of how far forecasts can be trusted. Instead of evaluating forecasts at the end of the season, sites currently equipped with automated pollen observations allow cross-checking in near-real-time. Further down the line of the project, CAMS and EAN hope to improve daily forecasts using the observations through the process of data assimilation. Incoming observations will be processed instantly to adjust the starting point of daily forecasts, as it is done for instance in numerical weather prediction. Furthermore, a roll out to geographically cover all Europe with the support of EUMETNET is planned.

CAMS has been working with EAN since June 2019 to help verify its forecasts with observational data from more than 100 ground stations across the continent that have been selected for their representativeness. Through the partnership, forecasts have improved significantly.

Pollen allergies affect millions of people across Europe who may react to certain plants at different times of year. For example, birch pollen peaks in April and is more likely to be avoided in the south of Europe, meanwhile going north in July can mean misery for sufferers as grasses are in full flower at this time. The olive tree is common in Mediterranean countries and its pollen is highly prevalent from May to June. Unfortunately for sufferers, there are hardly no ‘pollen free’ regions as spores are transported across huge distances. This is why CAMS’s four-day forecasts are an invaluable tool for allergy sufferers who can track when and where they are likely to be affected. And the new automated pollen observations could become a gamechanger once the scheme is rolled out further.

Vincent-Henri Peuch, Director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), comments: “The new automated pollen monitoring capacity developed by EUMETNET and the EAN is of benefit to all users who can check how far the forecasts are correct. While it is common today to verify air quality forecasts in real time, it is truly ground-breaking for pollen. This will also make the continuous development of our forecast models faster and in the medium-term they could be used in the processing of forecasts, too. Knowing you can check the forecast of the day, or the past few days, was correct is invaluable.”

Dr Bernard Clot, Head of Biometeorology at MeteoSwiss, said: “The automated pollen programme ‘Autopollen’ of EUMETNET is an exciting development for Europe and this is only the first step. While there are currently six sites in Switzerland, eight in Bavaria, and a total of 20 across the continent, we are coordinating the expansion of the network for full European coverage.

Copernicus is the European Union’s flagship Earth observation programme which operates through six thematic services: Atmosphere, Marine, Land, Climate Change, Security and Emergency. It delivers freely accessible operational data and services providing users with reliable and up-to-date information related to our planet and its environment. The programme is coordinated and managed by the European Commission and implemented in partnership with the Member States, the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), EU Agencies and Mercator Océan International, amongst others.

ECMWF operates two services from the EU’s Copernicus Earth observation programme: the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) and the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). They also contribute to the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (CEMS). The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) is an independent intergovernmental organisation supported by 34 states. It is both a research institute and a 24/7 operational service, producing and disseminating numerical weather predictions to its Member States. This data is fully available to the national meteorological services in the Member States. The supercomputer facility (and associated data archive) at ECMWF is one of the largest of its type in Europe and Member States can use 25% of its capacity for their own purposes.

ECMWF is expanding its location across its member states for some activities. In addition to an HQ in the UK and Computing Centre in Italy, new offices with a focus on activities conducted in partnership with the EU, such as Copernicus, will be located in Bonn, Germany from Summer 2021.


The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service website can be found here.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service website can be found here. 

More information on Copernicus. 

The ECMWF website can be found here.

Twitter:
@CopernicusECMWF
@CopernicusEU
@ECMWF

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