Sustainable plant protection transition: a global health approach – SPRINT

Farming systems in Europe rely strongly on the use of plant protection products such as pesticides to secure yields and food safety in plant production and animal husbandry: an average 340,000 to 370,000 tonnes of active substances are spread on Europe’s fields every year. Multiple residues of these substances are commonly found in soil, water, crops, food and feed, as well as animals and humans.

European societies are increasingly aware of the potential harmful impacts that plant protection products can have on environmental, plant, animal, and human health. The aim of this EU-funded research project is to develop an integrated approach to assessing the impacts of pesticide mixtures on health, and to identify pathways for transitioning to alternative farming practices that result in a more sustainable and cost-effective use of pesticides.

The project’s main expected impacts are:

  • A comprehensive understanding of how the use or non-use of pesticides impacts on the health of the environment, as well as animals, including livestock, and people, especially consumers, farm workers, and residents in agricultural areas
  • Improved monitoring and assessment of pesticide use
  • Evaluation of farming practices that are likely to result in a more sustainable and cost-effective use of pesticides.

Harmonized monitoring of the distribution of pesticides

SPRINT consists of 9 interlinked work packages. The distribution of pesticides and their impacts on ecosystem, plant, animal, and human health will be evaluated at 11 case study sites – 10 in Europe and one in Argentina, the main exporter of soy used as animal feed in Europe.

SPRINT work packages (WPs). PPP stands for plant protection products.

CDE leads Work Package 2, which focuses on harmonizing the monitoring of pesticide distribution in, and the health status of, ecosystems, plants, animals, and humans in the 11 case study sites.

The specific objectives of WP2 are:

  • To develop a study protocol for a diagnostic approach to collecting data on ecosystem, plant, animal, and human health that is standardized across all case study sites; and to support stakeholders in its implementation.
  • To deliver a critical review and a database of available agricultural and public health data related to plant protection products and to optimize the diagnosis of ecosystem, plant, animal, and human health on that basis.
  • To collect data in the case study sites on the distribution of plant protection products and ecosystem, plant, animal, and human health following a harmonized protocol, to analyse these data, and to identify patterns and interrelations.
  • To collect input data for the exposure models to be applied in WP3.
  • To develop, test, and validate an integrated detailed diagnostic approach.
  • To identify innovative and sustainable land management practices that help reduce reliance on plant protection products.

In addition, CDE is responsible for the Swiss case study site, localized in the region of Bern considering 20 farm families and related SPRINT target populations, i.e. non-farmers/neighbors and consumers. The case study site has 10 conventional/integrated and 10 organic fields. CDE is also coordinating all activities at the case study sites in Europe and Argentina.