27 March 2023

Germany, the reduction in the use of pesticides is still too slow


The use of pesticides in Germany decreased by less than 10 percent between 2009 and 2020. The figure raises many concerns about the spread of integrated pest management, a technique designed to reduce the use of the most dangerous chemicals

by Matteo Cavallito


Germany is betting on integrated pest management with the goal of reducing pesticide use in the country by 50 percent. A move in line with the ambitions of the EU, which plans to halve the use of pesticides by 2030 according to its Farm to Fork strategy, says Euractiv.

“To work towards sustainable use of plant protection products, the ministry wants to ‘set a clear focus’ on ‘strengthening integrated pest management’ according to the conclusions of a government meeting on Germany’s plant protection national action plan,” Euractiv writes. The idea, in short, is to turn chemical pesticides into a kind of last resort, while favoring, by contrast, the use of other techniques to protect crop health. The problem, however, is that information coming from the country seems to paint a far less promising picture. A scenario, in other words, characterized, in particular, by a low application of alternative strategies.

Integrated pest management

Integrated pest management is recognized as a useful tool by the European Union Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides. As defined by the EU, this strategy is based on “careful consideration of all available plant protection methods and subsequent integration of appropriate measures that discourage the development of populations of harmful organisms and keep the use of plant protection products and other forms of intervention to levels that are economically and ecologically justified and reduce or minimise risks to human health and the environment.”

Integrated management, hence, “emphasises the growth of a healthy crop with the least possible disruption to agro-ecosystems and encourages natural pest control mechanisms.”

Decisive is the prevention of the proliferation of dangerous microorganisms, which is based on the application of various techniques. These include crop rotation, the use of resistant varieties, the use of balanced fertilization, liming, irrigation and drainage practices, and the application of specific hygiene measures including regular cleaning of machinery and equipment.

The country is lagging behind

The problem, Euractiv notes, however, is that to date the use of integrated management in Germany appears to be limited. Data on the adoption of this technique, the agency says, are absent. But the impact on pesticide use, in any case, has certainly not been significant. Between 2009, when the Integrated Strategy itself became mandatory, and 2020, the last year for which final numbers are available, total pesticide sales in the country fell by less than 10 percent from 30,000 to 28,000 tons annually.

The scenario remains worrisome. According to a study by the Technical University of Kaiserslautern-Landau published late last year in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, the total toxicity of pesticides used in Germany has increased for fish, terrestrial plants and soil organisms over the past 25 years.

The survey details how total toxicity “for terrestrial vertebrates decreased over time by about 20%,” the research states. The figure, however, “increased by a factor of three for fishes, largely due to insecticides, by a factor of two for soil organisms, largely due to fungicides and insecticides, and, to a lower extent, for terrestrial plants, solely due to herbicides.”

Is EU pesticide policy not working?

The German case, moreover, is part of an equally critical European picture. A report by Pesticide Action Network (PAN), a federation that brings together hundreds of NGOs in 60 different countries, showed that cases of contamination in vegetable specimens consumed in Europe increased by 53 percent between 2011 and 2019. The survey, published in May last year, then questioned the consistency of data provided by the EU authorities on the phase-out of the most toxic substances.

“The European Commission already claims a 12% reduction in 2019 compared to 2015-2017,” the authors explained. “However, this report, which provides evidence of the quantity of pesticides that actually end up in food, is a strong rebuttal to that claim: in 2019, the proportion of fruit and vegetables contaminated with the most hazardous pesticides increased by 8.8% compared to 2015-2017.”