German Study:Pesticide Use Reduction

German Study Shows Potential for Pesticide Use Reduction

December 21, 2001

A recent study released by Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Germany outlines key principles to guide pesticide use reduction strategies. Entitled "From Law to Field: Pesticide Use Reduction in Agriculture -- From Pesticide Residue Analyses to Action, " the study advises how to meet European Union (EU) pesticide use reduction targets that were set for 2000 but have not yet been implemented.

Two key findings of the study are that pesticide use reduction analyses are most effective if they are crop specific and if they incorporate parties beyond the farm, including regulators, food retailers and consumers. While based exclusively on German research and data, the study also provides a framework for analysis and action applicable to other crops and countries in the EU and beyond.

The report consists of three sections: a pesticide residue study, a risk analysis and case studies on apples and wheat. Since pesticide use data organized by crop and active ingredient are unavailable in Germany, the study first examines pesticide residues in food and the environment -- including residues in ground-, rain- and surface- water, soil, air and human and animal tissue -- to evaluate plant protection practices. The data, covering the period of 1997 through 2001, document 119 different pesticide residues including 58 in food, 59 in surface water and 61 in groundwater.

Based upon these findings, the risk section of the report analyzes the location the pesticide residues (i.e. food or water), toxicology of detected pesticides and area of land covered by specific crops. Residues of 51 pesticides registered in Germany were linked to use on 25 crops that cover half of the total agricultural land area in that country. The five most dangerous residues detected were dimethoate, chlorpyrifos, cypermethrin, cyfluthrin and lambda-cyhalothrin. Celery and spinach had the most toxic residues on average while apple and wheat contained the highest number of residues.

Apples and wheat were chosen as case studies because the crops have a high number of residues associated with their cultivation, are grown on a large scale and represent different production systems.

Although integrated pest management (IPM) techniques are widespread in German apple orchards, apple production in Germany is still characterized by the intensive use of pesticides. The apple case study finds that further pesticide use reduction could only be expected with a move towards fully organic production methods and increased use of resistant apple varieties.

In addition to changing cultivation practices, many steps beyond the farm level are also identified as important in reducing pesticide use on apples, including changing conditions of fruit marketing and commerce. A key factor highlighted in the case study is the need to change consumption patterns in order to reduce pesticide use on apple crops. Since consumption patterns are strongly influenced by price, the study advocates the political solution of national and international subsidies for organic production. The case study emphasizes that politicians who set standards for fruit trade, merchants, shopkeepers and consumers have a strong influence on which apple varieties farmers produce.

In contrast, the second case study indicates that prospects for reducing pesticide use through IPM are far greater for wheat than for apple production. Since IPM measures have not been widely implemented on wheat crops in Germany, the case study finds that simple preventative practices such as changing the timing of seed sowing could reduce pesticide use without risking economic losses. In order to support the transition towards organic wheat production in Germany, the study advocates financial support for farmers and the development of market instruments to make products more attractive to consumers.

The report concludes that the best data to develop crop specific pesticide use reduction strategies are not pesticide residue data, but rather crop and site specific pesticide use data. It further argues that convincing consumers of the need to change their consumption patterns is the single most important factor in reducing pesticide use and increasing organic production. The report also calls for further research on how to facilitate the transition to organic farming in Europe.

Source: PAN Germany, "From Law to Field: Pesticide Use Reduction in Agriculture -- From Pesticide Residue Analyses to Action," November 2001,

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