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Do Poles think farmers abuse pesticides and pose a threat to health and the environment?

Czy zdaniem Polaków rolnicy nadużywają pestycydów i zagrażają zdrowiu i środowisku?

Lots of fear, little substance

Unfortunately, a common accusation directed at agricultural producers by non-farmers is the alleged abuse of plant protection products, which harm the health of consumers and the environment. Despite various educational campaigns directed by the agricultural industry towards society, many people still consider a typical farmer to be a greedy and unaware poisoner with a bottle of pesticide at his side, driven by the desire for profit, who will sacrifice nature and the health of Poles for a kilogram of grain. This fear is fueled by hot reports from the mass media, which chase sensation with information about cancer and poisoning. Of course, as in any industry, various pathologies occur in agricultural production, but they are a minority. It is worth not only farmers to constantly improve their competences and awareness in order to eliminate possible abuses over time; but also for consumers to have reliable knowledge about the actual state of agriculture in Poland and the values of domestic food.

Meanwhile, it seems that fear and persistent stereotypes still prevail over substance. Farmer's editorial team, through the Ariadna research panel, asked Poles whether they think that farmers in Poland abuse plant protection products and whether they think Polish farmers use more or less plant protection products than farmers in other European Union countries. The responses were devastating and a very negative picture emerges.

More than half of the respondents (52%) claim that Polish farmers abuse plant protection products , and only 20%. is of a different opinion. 28 percent people were unable to clearly answer this question. Additionally, 18 percent respondents answered that, in their opinion, farmers in Poland use more pesticides than farmers in EU countries, and according to 29 percent respondents, the consumption of PPE in Poland is similar to the rest of the EU. Meanwhile, in Polish agriculture, the average use of plant protection products is lower than the EU average. In the EU, an average of 3.2 kg of active substance/1 ha of crops is used. In Poland in 2021 it was 2.3 kg of dry matter/ha. IERiGŻ estimates that in 2023, the consumption of the active substance per ha in Poland dropped to approximately 1.75 kg.

Interestingly, among rural residents, 50 percent respondents claim that Polish farmers use too many plant protection products. The accusation of excessive use of pesticides by farmers is most shared by the inhabitants of larger cities (100-500 thousand people). inhabitants (59 percent of respondents answered affirmatively). In turn, residents of the largest centers >500,000 inhabitants have a better opinion about the use of pesticides by farmers: 49 percent of them believe that too many pesticides are used in Polish agriculture.

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The image of the farmer-poisoner persists

Later in the study, we asked Poles whether they considered plant protection products a threat to consumer health and the environment. It is worth emphasizing here that properly used plant protection products are safe for both human and animal health and the natural environment. All pesticides available on the European market are subjected to a series of tests and rigorous controls, and their safety is supervised by specialized EU institutions. Spraying in accordance with the rules contained in the labels of pesticides is not an activity that threatens the quality of agricultural produce or nature. Problems arise when, for example, plant protection products are used that are not approved for trading in the EU or are counterfeit and from an unverified source. However, there are control institutions in Poland and the EU that supervise the correct use of PPEs and ensure that such violations are eliminated from practice.

However, there is also a lot of fear and distrust in society on this issue. Among the respondents, as many as 41 percent people say that plant protection products always pose a threat to human health, and 43% say that plant protection products always pose a threat to the environment.

49 and 48 percent respondents state that pesticides pose a threat to health and the environment only when they are used contrary to recommendations. 9 percent respondents do not consider plant protection products to be a threat to health and nature.

It is worth noting that among people with children, as many as 93 percent answered affirmatively to the question about the health risk associated with the use of plant protection products (answers: "yes, pesticides always pose a threat" and "yes, but only when they are used contrary to recommendations). Childless respondents have greater trust in pesticides – 15 percent .of them do not believe that plant protection products pose a health hazard.

The research was conducted on July 5–7, 2024 for the Farmer editorial office by the Ariadna Research Panel on a nationwide sample of 1,138 people using the CAWI method. Amounts selected according to representation in the population of Poles aged 18 and over, gender, age and size of place of residence.

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