Jane Mills, University of Gloucestershire, talks about the SPRINT project’s goal of tackling the impacts of pesticides on human, animal and environmental health
Agricultural systems in Europe depend heavily on pesticides to ensure yields and food security in crop production. Due to this dependence, it is common to find multiple residues of pesticides in soil, water, crops, food and feed, animals and humans. Much is still unknown about the impacts of these residues on the environment, especially when mixed together – often described as a âcocktail effectâ. The public is increasingly concerned about the effects of pesticides on human, animal and environmental health. For example, a few studies suggest an association between pesticide use and Parkinson’s disease. In France, Parkinson’s disease is now classified as an occupational disease. Other studies, for example in Germany, have linked drastic declines in insect populations to the widespread use of agricultural pesticides.
The European Commission recognizes the need to reduce the dependence of agriculture on pesticides. As a result, its âFarm to Fork Strategyâ introduced in May 2020 sets a target of âreducing the overall use and risk of chemical pesticides by 50% and the use of more hazardous pesticides by 50% by 2030 â. In addition, a target has been set for 25% of total agricultural land in the European Union (EU) to be managed organically by 2030, a 16.5% increase from current levels.
All pesticide approvals are regulated both at European and national level. However, research is needed to develop tools capable of better understanding the risks and global impacts of pesticide mixtures on the environment, animals and humans and of identifying and promoting effective risk reduction options.
Presentation of the SPRINT project
The 5-year SPRINT project, which started in September 2020, is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research program and has two main objectives: First, to develop a global health risk assessment toolkit for pesticides in order to assess the exposure, risks and impacts of pesticides. mixtures on human, animal and ecosystem health. Second, identify agricultural practices and policy changes that help farmers reduce their dependence on chemical pesticides and make the transition to sustainable food production.
The SPRINT team includes 28 partners from all over Europe and Argentina (where fodder crops are grown for European markets). The team is transdisciplinary, with scientists from soil sciences, agronomy, ecology, sustainability assessment, (eco) toxicology, epidemiology and social sciences. The project works closely with conventional and organic farmers, as well as with their neighbors and consumers. In 11 case study countries, these participants will provide samples for testing, and in addition, samples will be taken from soil, water, air, crops and livestock on farms.
Develop a global health risk assessment toolkit for pesticides
The results of SPRINT will improve the pesticide assessment process by creating a global health impact assessment toolkit with aligned tools and methods for integrated assessment of pesticide exposure, risk and sustainability.
Pesticides undergo extensive testing before they are available on the market. Based on these tests, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and national authorization bodies determine the conditions for their use. However, it is widely recognized that the standards used in these tests are inadequate for a complete and realistic risk assessment and need urgent improvement. Important factors are missing, for example, these tests do not assess the risks of pesticide cocktails on human health and ecosystems. In addition, important pesticide transport pathways, such as air and dust movement, are missing from models predicting the fate of pesticides.
Within SPRINT, we are developing innovative approaches to study how mixtures of pesticides affect resilience, reproduction and contribute to the development of diseases in ecosystems, livestock and humans. The approach includes new (eco) toxicological tests (with new evaluation criteria) and microbiome tests, which will predict the impact of pesticide use on human health and the environment.
Support a transition to reduced use of pesticides in Europe
Based on an inventory of pesticide distribution and health status in all case study areas, SPRINT will assess the environmental and economic impacts on sustainability for farmers and society of the different options for use of pesticides.
By actively engaging with farmers and other key players in the food production chain and decision makers, we will identify the transition needs of the entire food chain and policy actions that will lead to a 50% reduction in risk. / the use of pesticides and a transition to sustainable agriculture.
Initially, the visions and goals of the transition are defined and compared to the current state. This research includes the identification of blockages and barriers, including path dependency, farmer attitudes or economic constraints, regulatory governance mechanisms, consumer expectations for cheap food, the structure of subsidies. or the lack of knowledge and applied research to reduce the risk of existing pesticides and to identify viable alternatives in support of the European and global sustainable development agenda.
The transition from the undesirable current state to the desired goal will be explored and defined in the second step. The technical and regulatory aspects of the transition will also be taken into account during interregional workshops bringing together the regulatory and political players concerned.
Through these activities, the SPRINT project will make a contribution of international importance to the assessment of the integrated risks and impacts of pesticides on the environment and human health, both at regional and European level. SPRINT will also inform and accelerate the adoption of innovative transition pathways towards more sustainable crop protection.
SPRINT (Sustainable Plant Protection Transition) has received funding from the European Union’s HORIZON 2020 research program under grant agreement no. 862568.
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