Swiss farmers are ingesting mandatory pesticide requirements 2

Swiss farmers are ingesting mandatory pesticide requirements

The goal of the law is to set a binding target for reducing pesticide risk. Meanwhile, the peasant lobby in parliament is also in favor of this proposal, as the last decision shows.

Hansueli Schöchli

The use of pesticides in agriculture is the focus of two popular initiatives. (Image by Steven Lüdtke / Keystone)

The use of pesticides in agriculture is the focus of two popular initiatives. (Image by Steven Lüdtke / Keystone)

Two popular initiatives target pesticides. The drinking water initiative requires that direct federal payments go only to farmers who produce pesticide-free products (and refrain from preventive use of antibiotics for animals). Another initiative is to ban the use of pesticides – as well as import food produced using synthetic pesticides.

Both initiatives were rejected by the Federal and National Councils without counter-proposal. But a parliamentary initiative launched by the State Council's Economic Commission for a sort of de facto counter-Constitution is speeding up. This week, the Economic Council of the National Council supported the initiative – a surprising result of 24 to 0 votes. The initiative calls for the legal anchoring of the descent path "with binding targets for pesticide use risk". The term "risk" here means the product of a quantity of pesticide (more specifically: exposure) with toxicity.

Half by 2030

The proposal was also approved by representatives of farmers in the Commission of the National Council. Demand for a parliamentary initiative is already anchored in the 2017 Federal Council Action Plan on Plant Protection Products, says Farmers Association President and National CVP Council Markus Ritter. The Action Plan calls for halving pesticide risk compared to 2012-2015. Half of those should be reached by 2030, according to federal data. The Federal Council's plan also mentions intermediate targets, such as reducing high-risk pesticides by 30 percent by 2027.

According to Markus Ritter, the Farmers Association agrees with these goals of the action plan. But critics doubt the binding nature of the plan and want to put the goals into law. Beat Jans of the SP National Council can hardly imagine that his party would not support the drinking water initiative if there was no binding counter-proposal. Jans was on the national council for a strong counter-proposal that wanted to target halving pesticide risk by 2030, but failed.

The Parliamentary Initiative on Goal Reduction mentions neither figures nor a time period. The job is now back to the Council of State's Economic Commission, which will make a concrete legislative proposal. According to reports, such a draft should be available in the first quarter of 2020. According to observers, it is obvious that this draft presupposes a numerical specification of the Federal Council's action plan.

Formally, this form should not be contrary to the drinking water initiative. However, a binding decision to reduce pesticides could make it easier to combat both pesticide initiatives. Farmers President Markus Ritter said Wednesday that a bill to slow down pesticide cuts is coming as soon as possible. Critics suspect the Farmers Association wants to use this model as a bargaining chip for the upcoming 2022 agricultural policy debate (AP 22+). The Federal Council is expected to adopt its legislative proposal on AP 22+ in February 2020 for parliament.

Dance around the calendar

The implementation of the parliamentary pesticide reduction initiative should, as far as possible, be combined with agricultural policy advice 22+. According to Markus Ritter, major parliamentary debates on AP 22+ are likely to take place in September and December 2020. When popular pesticide initiatives came before voters, it was still open. According to official federal data, there is no official counter-proposal, the latest possible date for a double vote in March 2021. Peasant President Ritter wanted an earlier poll – in May or September 2020, so that parliament could make agricultural policy decisions 22+, according to the referendum. On the other hand, however, it would be desirable for people to be able to make their own decisions on pesticide initiatives with the knowledge of a parliamentary decision to reduce pesticides. This multi-variable equation is solvable. How parliament dissolves has yet to be shown.