EU Plant Protection: Biocontrol in SUR

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The proposal for revision of the Sustainable Uses Regulation did not make it through the European Parliament. In a surprising last-minute move by legislation supporters, the Greens and some of the left-leaning parties also rejected the final proposal after multiple amendments. The plenary discussion led to xtensive amendments that supporters, such as the Greens, ended up voting against the text. Likely, this was in the hope that their subsequent proposal (which was to send the text back for rewording at the Parliament ENVI Committee) would pass the next vote. However, it did not.

Is this the end of the SUR file? Probably not. For now, let’s focus on the key points for the rejection across the political spectrum and what it means for Biocontrol.

The EU is about compromises and very lengthy negotiation processes. It’s a painful process for business operators. We like speed and a clear path, but reality is usually a big disarray and political confrontation, if not worse. Achieving a compromise between parties is never easy in the context of the EU’s fragmented decision-making structures, particularly in the presence of divisive views and interests. History, however, demonstrates that this is feasible.

Why was the SUR file so divisive? In my opinion, there were too many policies with multiple wishes in a single legislative file. There were too many asks from different parties and too many goals to be achieved at once. This led to several forces spinning in different directions with the impossibility of reaching a compromise on this legislative proposal.

Interestingly, the Biocontrol definition and all supportive text to promote biocontrol registration and uses did receive extensive support across the political spectrum. That’s an achievement we should build on to ask for a separate piece of Legislation for the Registration and use of Biocontrol products.

Thanks to the fantastic work of the IBMA Secretariat, the biocontrol amendments made it to the final proposal and were supported when voted in the Parliament. We should leverage this success and keep advocating for the biocontrol definition to be included in the EU Legislation, either in the reworked version of the SUR or a new Legislative vehicle specifically designed for it.

There is no argument against it since one of the main reasons for the SUR rejection was the fact that the growers do not have enough alternatives to use in their IPM programs for this transition. The reason for this blockage is simply the lack of a biocontrol definition in the EU legislation. This cycle must be broken and the only way to move the needle is by including a definition of Biocontrol in the EU Legislation, permitting a separate track for the registration and use of biocontrol to enable our products to reach the growers. Growers are waiting!

Too much too fast? Maybe. Humans are driven by fear and the fact that not enough products are available in the EU market, today, is very frightening for growers but also consumers fearing the rise of food prices. Thus, a PR campaign is an easy way to gain public support as well as a true picture during the short discussion timeline involving the SUR complex file. How should we address this? If we keep doing the same, we keep getting the same. Therefore, there is a need to change the registration system for our products. The Biocontrol definition must come out of the SUR if the SUR file is not to be reworked then the EU must come up with one of its creative legislative processes to make it happen. The EU is very good at that.

After the disappointment of no compromise within the SUR as it was an almost impossible file with all the clashing demands the European Union is still on time to wrap up the file around the points where agreements are reached. A biocontrol definition is within the reach and agreeable to move forward.

The SUR file has to be closed, one way or another. Gathering the pieces that got support across the political spectrum in the EU Parliament could be an elegant way to conclude the SUR file. The EU election is just around the corner in spring 2024 and closing this file, even if rebaptizing is needed, would be a paramount achievement for the current European Commission which built its program on the Green Deal. Would this be enough? Well, much better than what we have today. Failing to deliver on the Green Deal policy will further undermine citizens’ trust in the EU institutions, which in current times is risky for all business operators.

Everyone wants a safe and secure food supply at an affordable price with respect for the ecosystems and our land. It is high time to have a biocontrol definition — citizens and growers have been waiting for too long. It’s time to surf the stepstones paved by the SUR discussion; it’s
a great opportunity for Biocontrol.

Background of the SUR

The Commission proposed, on 22 June 2022, a regulation on the sustainable use of plant protection products (aka the SUR, Sustainable Uses Regulation) as part of a legislative package aiming at reducing the environmental footprint of the EU food system and a key pillar of the European Green Deal.

The EU Commission does not approve any major legislation, the approval comes from the EU Parliament and the EU Council. The EU Parliament is directly elected by the citizens while the EU Council is a decision body composed of the current governments elected in the Member States, i.e. each EU Member State sends its representative for the Council to cast their vote. The EU Parliament is elected every 5 years while the EU Council keeps changing as Member States hold national elections in the countries. The EU Commission SUR proposal would have to be approved by the Parliament and the Council, in the so-called co-decision mechanism. Major legislation, such as the SUR, must be approved by both, the Parliament, and the Council.

On 22 November 2023, the EU Parliament rejected the Commission proposal with 299 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) voting against the proposal, as amended by MEPs in a plenary discussion the day before, 207 MEPs supporting the proposal and 121 abstaining. The
proposal on the sustainable use of plant protection products has been rejected by the Parliament. At the closing of this article, it was unclear what the Commission’s next steps will be on its proposal, and whether the Council will rework the proposal for a second reading at the EU
Parliament or let it go (rejecting it).