The Problem that Pesters: Reducing Pesticide Use in the European Union

by Daria Constantinescu

The use of pesticides in the agricultural sector continues to be a hotly debated topic. The excessive use of chemical pesticides has shown to have detrimental effects on the environment and biodiversity, as well as human health. This article lays out the principles of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and presents the strengths of this strategy, as well as its challenges. A recent hearing at the European Parliament (EP) held by the European Union (EU) funded project IPMWORKS laid out the current findings of the project, outlining the impact IPM has had on several farms across Europe, and how this strategy can be further implemented.

What is IPM? 

Chemical pesticides have had a detrimental effect on the environment, causing water and soil contamination [2] and harm to surrounding plants and animals, as well as human health [1]. While pest management is crucial for farmers to ensure a viable income and to maintain food security, excessive use of chemical pesticides has proven to be unsustainable due to the significant damage they have on the environment and biodiversity.

The IPM approach tries to work with ecosystems instead of against them by encouraging natural pest control mechanisms [3]. Some alternatives that can help prevent the growth of harmful organisms include: 

  • crop rotation to improve the soil’s fertility and interrupt any pest or disease cycles that may target a singular crop; 
  • the use of adequate cultivation techniques based on the needs of the crop; 
  • using natural predators or plant repellents to pests [4].

Chemical pesticides would still be a tool in the agricultural field but used only where it is “economically and environmentally justified” [4] meaning strategically and minimally, such as patch spraying on persistent weeds and pests, or using chemical pesticides in combination with the holistic alternatives provided by IPM. 

The goal of IPMWORKS, a project targeting farms across Europe, is to create a network and accessible information exchange platform for farmers so they can easily adopt IPM methods. The program was launched in 2020 and in this time frame alone has managed to reach 250 farmers across different agricultural sectors in 16 countries including, France, The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom [6]. 

IPMWORKS aims to further expand their network of farmers across the EU and promote IPM methods through the use of hubs, coaches, and toolkits to help better communicate the benefits of IPM and facilitate the necessary shift across the agricultural sector. 

Strengths and Challenges 

Recently, IPMWORKS held a hearing at the European Parliament (EP) to advocate to Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) the need to further invest in alternatives to chemical pesticides, and to overall discuss the issue of pesticide use in the EU. The following section will summarise the key points discussed in the hearing. 

  1. The main argument for IPM adoption is prioritising biodiversity and working towards significantly reducing the use of pesticides at the  European level. Through the tools of IPMWORKS, farmers would have a network they can rely on to support each other in taking preventative measures and finding alternatives to chemical pesticides by sharing knowledge and collaborating. The results of the studies of implementing IPM methods show that these strategies have been comparable, and at times more efficient than traditional pesticides. These studies also show that IPM methods are equal in terms of cost-effectiveness, and effort, at times requiring lower effort than the current standard. 
  1. The hearing also brought forward important challenges to consider in IPM implementation. One of the biggest concerns was the goal to reduce pesticide use by 50% by 2030, as proposed by the Farm to Fork Strategy [7]. This target is intended for all countries and does not consider the drastic difference between each country’s use. For instance, in 2021, Slovakia bought a total of 907,000 kg of pesticides, compared to the Netherlands who bought 9.3 million kilograms [8]. As such, MEPs have argued that  this target to be proportional to a country’s use instead of a blanket 50% decrease across the board. Many are also concerned about how realistic this threshold is as farmers may push back against adopting IPM measures, especially if they do not fully understand the strategies and the process. 
  1. Another issue is how commercial chemical pesticide producers will react to this change. Since chemical pesticides are easily accessible on the market, IPM has to compete with their reach and make a compelling argument to farmers to choose these strategies over the chemical pesticides they are used to. This is especially important as some IPM methods rely on less common materials such as natural predators to pests. Additionally, any legislative action to move away from chemical pesticides can result in significant industry pushback as has been seen in past years [9]. 

Next steps 

Rising global temperatures introduce a level of uncertainty which makes it difficult to predict the extent to which pesticides will be needed. New pests and plant diseases can emerge due to changes in soil health, temperature changes and the many other threats to biodiversity and ecosystems [10]. Furthermore, past pesticide bans have been put on hold because of the effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine, and the effects this has had on food production and energy costs. 

It is also imperative to clearly define aspects of the Farm to Fork Strategy such as the reduction of chemical pesticides by 50% and whether such a reduction should be proportional to each country’s current usage. Specific crop and sector rulings may also be necessary as they have very different needs and problems. 

Uncertainty aside, the recent hearing did bring forward some key points to consider in terms of  the broader discussion around pesticides. For example, stipulating pesticide use on food labels, similar to the health ranking that currently exists on many food labels [11], would increase transparency in the industry. This, alongside a price incentive, allows consumers to make more informed decisions, and makes them more involved in the debate.

Ultimately, incorporating IPM methods in the agricultural sector has the opportunity to be beneficial for biodiversity and ecosystems across Europe. The future of chemical pesticides, and how we address the challenges in the agricultural sector brought about by the  climate crisis depends on the EU’s decision on how to move forward through policies, implementation, and collective action. 


[1] Pesticide Action Network Europe. “Pesticides and the Loss of Biodiversity.” PAN Europe, 28 June 2015, Accessed 25 May 2023.
[2] European Environment Agency. “How Pesticides Impact Human Health and Ecosystems in Europe — European Environment Agency.”, 26 Apr. 2023, Accessed 25 May 2023.
[3] European Commission. “Integrated Pest Management (IPM).”, Accessed 25 May 2023.
[4]  European Commission – Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development. “Using Less Chemical Pesticides: European Commission Publishes Toolbox of Good Practices.”, 28 Feb. 2023, Accessed 30 May 2023.
[5] IPMWORKS. “NETWORKS – IPMworks.” IPMWORKS, Accessed 23 May 2023.
[6]  EUR-Lex. “COMMUNICATION from the COMMISSION to the EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT… – EUR-Lex.”, 2 May 2021, Accessed 25 May 2023.
[7]  EuroStat. “Pesticide Sales.” EuroStat, 2023, Accessed 29 May 2023.
[8] Bounds, Andy. “EU Delays Cut in Pesticide Use over Food Output Fears.” Financial Times, 13 Sept. 2022, Accessed 26 May 2023.
[9] Singh, B.K., Delgado-Baquerizo, M., Egidi, E. et al. Climate change impacts on plant pathogens, food security and paths forward. Nat Rev Microbiol (2023).
[10] European Commission. “Farm to Fork Targets – Progress.” Food, Farming, Fisheries, 2022, Accessed 24 May 2023.
Categories EU - Current Affairs

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