Farmers who took to the street in a mass protest last week have welcomed a decision by the European Commission to scrap plans to halve pesticide use across the EU.

The move by European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen is an apparent concession to farmers who protested in many EU countries, including Malta.

She told the European Parliament in Strasburg on Tuesday that the proposal had become a “symbol of polarisation”.

Pesticide reduction was one of a long list of grievances that prompted Malta's farmers to protest for the first time in 40 years last Friday, driving their tractors from Ta' Qali to Floriana for the demonstration. 

They argued that the rules intended to make farming more environmentally friendly were being introduced too quickly and without the necessary support to ensure farm production is not impacted.

Farmers drove from Ta' Qali to Floriana in their tractors as part of the protest. Photo: AFPFarmers drove from Ta' Qali to Floriana in their tractors as part of the protest. Photo: AFP

Farming lobby group Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi who organised Friday's protest, said von der Leyen's decision was a "positive development". 

Its spokesperson, Malcolm Borg, said the EU was learning a lesson "the hard way".

"To ask farmers to halve the use of products that are essential for them to produce a yield, and thus earn a living was insensitive and premature especially when considering that products competing with the produce of European farmers (coming from outside the EU) have no such restrictions," he said. 

Borg explained that pesticides are essential to control pests and diseases, which can ruin a farmer's crop.

"Considering that farmers earn a living by selling produce and that they get a better price for better quality produce, halving pesticides would have meant lower quantities and qualities of crops," he said.

"Farmers are already struggling immensely to compete with imported produce coming from countries which can use a bigger toolkit than is allowed by the EU for European farmers, let alone if the toolkit of European farmers is further reduced. This would have had devastating impacts on farmers' livelihoods."

Borg said the way forward is to ensure that suitable alternatives are available before taking on measures that include halving pesticides. 

"Science and technology must fill the gap. Once they do, then we can continue discussing such targets, whilst ensuring that the farmers are on board."

The original proposal was put forward by the European Commission as part of the European Union’s Green Deal. 

"Our farmers deserve to be listened to," von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

"Many of them feel pushed into a corner".

The EU had proposed to halve the use of chemicals by 2030 as part of its Green Deal, which is aimed at tackling climate change. 

It also proposed a ban on the use of pesticides in areas like public gardens and parks, schools and sports fields. 

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