Alors qu’un vote décisif aura lieu ce vendredi 24 juin en comité d’experts de la Commission européenne pour réautoriser ou non le glyphosate, 69 député-e-s européen-ne-s se mobilisent pour que la France disent définitivement “non” à cette substance active de l’herbicide le plus vendu au monde.
le 20 juin 2016, Bruxelles
Objet: réautorisation du glyphosate au sein de l’Union européenne
Madame la Ministre de l’environnement, de l’énergie et de la mer, Monsieur le Ministre de l’Agriculture, de l’Agroalimentaire et de la Forêt,
Le 24 juin 2016, dans le cadre du Comité d’appel de Comitologie, des experts envoyés par la France devront se prononcer sur la proposition de la Commission concernant l’extension de l’autorisation pour le glyphosate pour une période de 12 à 18 mois. Tandis que le débat public autour du renouvellement de l’autorisation de cette substance s’est largement focalisé sur son caractère probablement cancérigène/ probable carcinogenicité, il est devenu de plus en plus évident que la controverse s’étend bien au-delà de cette question. Il ne s’agit plus seulement de savoir si le glyphosate est cause de cancer ou non. De récentes discussions aux niveaux national et international ont soulevé des préoccupations au sujet de notre modèle agricole actuel – qui dépend d’une utilisation excessive d’intrants chimiques conçus pour tuer – et sur la nécessité d’une transition vers une production alimentaire durable qui comprend aussi bien des méthodes soutenables de protection des cultures et de leurs nutriments..
Les signataires de cette lettre croient sincèrement que le futur de l’alimentation et d’un environnement sain repose sur un travail en coopération avec la nature et les processus naturels plutôt que contre eux. Cela consiste plus particulièrement à réduire la dépendance des agriculteurs aux intrants de plus en plus coûteux, à préserver un sol vivant et sain, et à stimuler la mise à disposition des fonctions des écosystèmes pour protéger, nourrir et fournir les nutriments nécessaires aux cultures.
Le glyphosate est un herbicide non-sélectif. Au lieu de viser les adventices plus couramment appelées ‘mauvaises herbes’, non désirées, il tue toutes les plantes sans distinction. Par ailleurs, il tue aussi les bactéries, les algues et les champignons. Il incarne l’augmentation des rendements et la réduction des coûts de production à tout prix – aux dépens de la santé humaine et animale, de la biodiversité et de la santé du sol. Il est impossible d’ignorer plus longtemps les réels coûts collatéraux de l’agriculture industrielle qui repose sur l’utilisation de substances telles que le glyphosate.
En annexe, nous avons recensé, en Anglais, sept propositions alternatives pour un modèle agricole qui ne repose pas sur l’utilisation du glyphosate et d’autres pesticides.
Nous vous demandons de contribuer à un nouveau modèle d’agriculture durable, non toxique. Nous sommes maintenant à la croisée des chemins – et nous vous prions donc de saisir la chance de voter pour ce nouveau modèle durable.
Pour commencer, je vous demande, avec 68 autres de mes collègues au Parlement européen, Madame la Ministre, Monsieur le Ministre de vous opposer à toute extension d’autorisation du glyphosate et, à exiger de la Commission une proposition contre le renouvellement de l’utilisation de cette substance.
1. Non-chemical techniques as alternatives to herbicide use
Herbicides are intended to kill weeds. First of all, use of herbicides as a ripening and desiccation agent for the crop itself must be discontinued; it is inevitable that elevated levels of pesticide residues end up in final food products if the crops are sprayed while seed or fruit is developing on the stem.
Evidence suggests that weeds only affect the yields under certain conditions, and that a totally weed-free field is not needed , and indeed that many wild plants offer microhabitats for other beneficial species that protect the crops from pests . To prevent too much competition from weeds, there are a number of techniques that are already being used in various production systems which have been shown to be at least equally cost effective as glyphosate application , and do not have the negative consequences for biodiversity posed by long term pesticide use. The alternatives to pesticides like glyphosate have been likened to “many little hammers” , instead of one big chemical hammer. Alternative control of weeds includes combinations of mechanical, physical and biological techniques – notably used in organic farming – such as:
– Appropriate crop rotations including
— Clean fallow against perennial and rhizomal weeds,
— Cover crops doubling as mulch or green manure,
— Following weed-prone crops with those where weeds can easily be controlled before they set seed
— rotating between crops that are planted in different seasons
– Stale bed techniques to germinate weed seeds before sowing crops combined with mechanical weeding
– Mulching to supress weed germination
– Avoiding bare soil in plantings, for example using intercropping or nurse crops undersown to emerge before the main crop
– Shallow ploughing to maintain subterranean communities and soil structures, while avoiding bringing up weed seeds from the seed soil bank
– Use of rotary hoe between rows and within rows in bigger crops later in season
– Thermal treatment in using steam or grill/hotplate
2. Letting beneficial species do their work: IPM and cascade approach, chemicals as last resort
Organic farmers have proved that producing without pesticides without large yield gaps is possible. A first step to reach organic production can be Integrated Pest Management: IPM is a concept already established in and promoted through EU legislation (both Reg.1107/2009 and Dir.2009/128/EC). However, it is not enough to merely promote it – implementation of IPM practices is patchy, and to achieve its maximum benefits it should be made compulsory. Many ways of managing pests via IPM rely on biodiversity, e.g. through beneficial species of predators of pests in the soil and in the wider agro-ecosystem. But those species may either be directly affected by glyphosate application, or their food source or habitat is . However, most pesticide risk assessment is often very short term, meaning that few longer term studies exist looking at sub-lethal effects due to repeated exposure. A fundamental problem with the methodological approach taken for approval by EFSA means that significant findings are diluted by the many scientific studies that do not look for long enough or in the right places. Such collateral damage on biodiversity means that prophylactic use of glyphosate and other pesticides (when the weeds present would not affect yield or when no pest is even seen), and especially its use as a ripening or desiccation agent, is seriously flawed because these natural defence mechanisms based on biodiversity are prevented from being effective, prevented from even having a chance to work and to cut the need for pesticide use.
Systematic regular or prophylactic use also leads to an increase of resistance, so that when a substance is really needed, it might no longer work as well, as effectiveness will decrease over time.
What’s more, killing all weeds/wild flowers means less food all year round for bees and other wild pollinators, which means less effective pollination in the time window when insect pollinated crops come into bloom, which may lead to decreasing yields . Following the same logic of increasing food available for natural predators of pests, wildflowers are being sown with cereals in order to decrease pest outbreaks .
Therefore a cascade approach should be followed, first using physical, mechanical and biological alternatives to pesticides, with pesticides only as a last resort if precautionary measures such as increasing structural and biological diversity, spreading risk and avoiding monocultures do not work. This will also help solve the problem of resistance and reduce the need to constantly innovate chemicals in a costly evolutionary arms race.
3. Advice and extension services, and exchange of farming knowledge
An effective exchange of knowledge and advice is essential to help inform farmers on how to implement those alternatives techniques and achieve a transition in agriculture. Many weed control techniques used before the widespread and systematic use of glyphosate and other pesticides would need to be re-learnt, and new innovations not reliant on chemicals would have to be shared. But to allow for this knowledge exchange and multiplication, we must ensure there is no chemical bias in advice given, and that knowledge about alternatives and IPM is effectively transmitted. Thankfully these structures already exist , and all member states have the option to use the second pillar of the CAP to fund them.
In addition, a new form of interaction between researchers, farmers and other practitioners is now available: the EIP or European Innovation Partnership allows a participatory, community-based approach to exchange knowledge and innovation .
4. Funding the transition via the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
Rather than farmers bearing the financial risk of the costs of the transition in learning and applying chemical-alternative techniques, we believe that public funds should do this, as the goal of sustainable, biodiverse agriculture is very much in the public interest. There is already a structure and programmes to cover the costs via the Rural Development pillar of the CAP. Measures and financial incentives to make the transition could also be further strengthened via Direct Payments in the First Pillar of the CAP. There is no need to wait until the next CAP reform; supporting the transition can already start now via Rural Development measures, including specially adapted agro-ecological measures that pay farmers to introduce new techniques and production systems, while also increasing public funding of advice services. What’s more, just a few weeks ago, Commissioner Hogan announced a recently-introduced procedure to re-direct funds, which is a fast track way to adapt Rural Development programmes within just 8 weeks.
5. Coherence with EU biodiversity and climate change policy
Glyphosate and other pesticides impact soil microbial communities by killing beneficial bacteria and fungi ; indeed before its use as a herbicide, Monsanto first patented it as an anti-microbial agent . By decreasing reliance on pesticides, and consequently by boosting biodiversity and natural processes in the soil and above ground in and around fields, it would not only help us meet our EU targets to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the EU and help stop global biodiversity loss by 2020, but also allow agriculture to play its part in combatting climate change :
Bringing soils back to life with healthier, deeper topsoil and more humus will not only help to increase the capacity of this carbon reservoir, but will also allow our farm systems to be better adapted to the floods and droughts increasingly common with climate change:
With far longer taproots reaching far deeper down to the bedrock , and with humus and symbiotic fungal mycorrhizae supplying more nutrients and water, the crops will be less susceptible to drought;
With more nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil, and by kick-starting nutrient cycling through reinvigorated soil life, the crops will also be less reliant on highly polluting synthetic fertilisers and the expensive, energy-intensive and greenhouse gas-emitting Haber-Bosch process used to make them.
With more humus to hold on to water and better drainage thanks to increased soil biota, the fields and surrounding rural areas will be less likely to flood too.
What’s more, increased abundance and diversity in agro-ecosystems will mean more beneficial predators of pest species to regulate pest populations, preventing them from booming in the first place and damaging crops.
6. Increased ecosystem functioning means greater input autonomy for farmers
A reduced reliance on chemical inputs and preventing pest and weeds from becoming a problem means greater autonomy for farmers. Prices for inputs have been rising over last decades and contributing to rising production costs . At the same time, the prices at which farmers sell their food are becoming less and less remunerative, and in some sectors production costs outweigh income. Plant crops can grow more robustly, are resilient to insects and pathogens and can more easily out-compete weedy ephemeral species if:
Firstly, there is more direct fixation of atmospheric nitrogen into the soil by bacteria surrounding the crop roots ;
Secondly, fungal mycorrhizae can supply more nutrients and water to crops;
Thirdly, improved nutrient cycling by life within the soil and mobilisation of the complete range of 42 nutrients provides crops with the micro-nutrients and minerals needed for healthy growth. In addition, healthy soils with balanced communities of beneficial species will defend crops from pathogens and pests , meaning farmers suffer fewer and smaller crop yield losses, spend less on agrochemical inputs, and build up resilience.
7. A paradigm shift supported by science: Agroecology
The real alternative involves not only a change of product, but a paradigm shift, choosing abundance, diversity and long-term fertility over uniformity and sterility – an approach already successfully applied through organic farming practices. Such a shift has just been recommended in the latest report of the International Panel of Experts on International Food Systems (IPES), under the coordination of former UN rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter .
The agriculture of the future must work with nature, not against it. Yet non-chemical solutions may be low-tech at the point of application by the farmer, and may be equally or more effective and certainly more cost- and resource-efficient in the wider and long term, but some new nature-based solutions may also be science-intensive and therefore also need upstream investment: for example, methods using parasitic wasps or pheromones to prevent pest damage to crops, or finding the nitrogen fixing bacteria to cut fertiliser dependency and pollution, need lots of research behind them. When farmers adopt methods based on agroecology, there are multiple benefits for the environment, farmers and for crops, not least resilience to climate change , the biggest challenge farming faces. Not only research but also communities of practice sharing ideas and knowledge between farmers shows this. What’s more, these environment-friendly methods are economically sustainable and are sufficiently productive to provide enough food for all.
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