New Poll Reveals Strong Public Opposition to EU Pesticide Use

A public opinion poll has shown that an overwhelming majority of EU citizens are concerned about the use of pesticides and its harmful effects on health and the environment. 

The poll, which was conducted in August 2023 by the European Public Affairs team of Ipsos on behalf of Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe, surveyed citizens of six EU member states (Denmark, France, Germany, Poland, Romania and Spain) about issues related to farming, food production and pesticide use in relation to health and the environment.

It clearly shows that Europeans are opposed to gambling with pesticide use, and would like to see policymakers play it safe when legislating around health and the environment. Policymakers should reflect on its findings, and avoid watering down its draft Sustainable Use of Plant Protection Products (SUR) legislation. 

Slow Food has launched the “Say Goodbye to Toxics” action, which let’s people voice their concerns by sending a letter to their political representatives. Our goal is to mobilize as many EU policymakers around this issue as possible to secure the change we need.

Key takeaways

European citizens are aware of—and concerned about—the increased pressures on our food systems and the environment, including those resulting from climate change. Citizens would like stricter regulations around the use of pesticides; EU policymakers should take note of this, and not cave in to pressure to dilute draft pesticide reduction legislation currently being discussed by EU policymakers.

Results of the Poll

As many as three-quarters of EU citizens (75.9%) worry about how the use of pesticides in farming and food production is affecting their health and the health of their families. Respondents in Poland and Romania expressed the highest levels of concern (80.4% and 84.1% respectively) while respondents in Denmark and Germany showed the lowest (62% and 69.8%).

Almost 82% of citizens are concerned about the environmental impact of pesticides, with little divergence across the bloc. Taken together, this shows broad support across the bloc for ambitious EU pesticide legislation that does not gamble with our health and the environment. 

Public hostility toward Glyphosate

As many as 85.3% of respondents support halting the use of a specific pesticide if new scientific evidence emerges indicating that a particular pesticide may cause harm to human health and/or the environment. With only minor variation across the bloc, this shows strong public appetite for evidence-led, scientifically-based decision-making when legislation on pesticides.

Specifically, the majority of respondents (61.9%) believe that glyphosate should be banned throughout the bloc, with the figure rising to 70.5% in France and 68.3% in Germany. 

Glyphosate is a major cause for concern, and has been a focal point of our advocacy efforts.

Stop Glyphosate Campaign Image
Stop Glyphosate Campaign Image

It is the most widely-used pesticide both in the world and in the bloc, and the active ingredient in the most widely used herbicide “RoundUp” produced by Bayer (ex Monsanto). Glyphosate now saturates the majority of rivers, streams, ditches and wastewater treatment plants, as well as appearing in 70% of rainfall samples. 

In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans. As the poll shows, the public has heeded the scientific advice; and, in an encouraging development, most EU member states have refused to support renewing the authorization for glyphosate on Friday 13th October, which means that there is some hope that policymakers are heeding both the science and their citizens. A new vote will take place in the coming weeks for a final decision on whether glyphosate will be able to continue being sold and used in the EU. 

Learn more about Glyphosate in the EU

An Absence of Trust

This poll further reveals that the public does not trust governments to prioritize health and the environment when legislating on pesticides. Respondents in Spain and Denmark expressed the highest levels of trust, yet around half of Romanians (50.3%) do not trust their government to protect them against pesticides, falling to 46.7% in France and 44.8% in Poland.

Policymakers have been presented with a golden opportunity to restore public faith. They should seek their solutions not in agrochemistry, but in agroecology.

A Desire for Legislation

The poll shows clear public appetite for a precautionary approach to pesticide use.

Nearly three-quarters (73.2%) of all respondents are in favor of the enforcement of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) rules for EU farmers. This would mean implementing sustainable non-chemical methods to pest control and plant protection, and keeping the use of pesticides as a very last resort. 

Diagram from PAN Integrated Pest Management
Diagram from PAN Integrated Pest Management

Fifty-nine percent of respondents agree that farmers should always use methods of preventing or controlling pests and diseases that carry the least risks for human health and the environment or else lose access to EU financial support.

Slow Food supports this but reiterates that farmers need support in transitioning toward alternatives to synthetic pesticides and in adopting agroecological farming which does not require external inputs. 

Members of the European Parliament from the agriculture committee have recently voted to reject an article that would link the EU’s farming subsidy program, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to the Pesticides Regulation (SUR), meaning that the CAP could not be used to support farmers in reducing the use of pesticides. This comes as a real surprise, and shows that many EU leaders are refusing to listen to citizens, science and reason. This decision can be overturned in an upcoming vote in the environment committee and then in the plenary but further pressure is needed. 

What you can do

Petition your politicians to remove pesticides from your food.

The task of transforming our food systems can seem overwhelming to us as individuals, and while we can easily make changes to our personal consumption habits, it’s only through concerted cooperation that we can change the world for the better. 

Slow Food has created an advocacy tool that lets you directly petition your EU parliamentarians and ministers for better food policy. You already have a template, so it only takes a minute to make your voice heard by those you elect, say goodbye to toxics and secure a more sustainable future before November’s final parliamentary vote.

Our position

Our movement is clear in its position on the use of pesticides. 

We advocate for public policies that promote sustainable and healthy food systems, promoting sustainable food production systems and discouraging those that destroy biodiversity (based on intensive farming, monocultures and the heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers). 

Pesticides affect the environment beyond their areas of application, and end up polluting the soil, air, water, and living organisms, micro and macroflora and fauna—and humans. 

The results of this poll are clear, and reflect the position of our movement: the majority of EU citizens want to play it safe with pesticides and be ambitious with regulations and pesticide reduction. 

Say Goodbye to Toxics Campaign Poster

What policymakers should do

Slow Food calls on policymakers to guarantee the following:

  • Apply the precautionary principle, as requested by EU law, to assure a high level of protection for human health and the environment.
  • Preserve and strengthen the key provisions of the proposed Sustainable Use of Pesticide Regulation (SUR), including binding provisions on IPM and crop-specific rules.
  • Protect sensitive areas by buffer zones made as wide as possible given the available information on pesticide drift and the risk of pesticide exposure for human health and biodiversity.
  • Support a ban on Glyphosate, given the substantial scientific evidence on risks for human health and the environment.
  • Address current gaps in EU pesticide authorisation, to adequately protect citizens and the environment.
  • Support a transition to agroecology by supporting farmers and by improving food environments to ease the access to healthy and sustainable diets for all

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Slow Food spearheads a range of international advocacy initiatives to influence policies in the public and private sectors. You can keep up to date with food policy developments in the EU by:

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