Press remarks by Executive Vice-President Timmermans and Commissioner Sinkevičius on proposals for a more sustainable use of plant and soil natural resources

Thank you very much.

Almost two years ago, we presented Fit for 55 package to implement the climate pillar of the Green Deal. Today, we complement the proposals underpinning the nature pillar.

The Commission is dead set to deliver on the Paris Agreement and climate action via Fit for 55. Now, we set the same level of commitment for the Biodiversity Framework agreed in Montreal last December.

Climate and nature go hand in hand.We need nature to help tackle the climate crisis.And the worse we let the climate crisis become, the more difficult it will be to enable nature to play this role.

You would, perhaps, not say so here in Belgium, but we have just experienced the hottest day ever recorded in the world yesterday, or the day before yesterday. A record that was immediately broken yesterday. And I think the urgency could not be clearer.

And also here, I want to express my commiseration for the lady who died today in the storms in the Netherlands. She was hit by a tree when she was driving a car.

Also these events are clearly linked to climate change.If we need to feel the urgency of action, I think we just need to look outside.


As part of Fit for 55, the European Union agreed to raise carbon removal targets. Whether we meet them will depend on the ability of soil and forests to remove and store carbon from the atmosphere.

At this point, only about a third of European soils are healthy. They are drying out due to droughts or losing fertile topsoil in heavy rains, while chemical pesticides and fertilizers endanger their natural resilience. Forests are likewise struggling, in part due to climate change and plagues like the bark beetle. The bark beetle can do its harm because of droughts, so these things are also interlinked.

Our proposal on soil health provides a lot of good news for citizens, farmers, and businesses, and Virginijus will take you through that in a moment.

The science is extremely clear on the need for action and the benefits, and we ought to act on the factual evidence that is presented to us.

Healthy soils absorb more carbon.More resilient soils bring additional income opportunities for farmers and land managers, including through carbon farming.And finally, healthy soils help us to prepare for the impacts of climate change.They retain water longer and drain it quicker when there is a downpour.


Healing soils and forests means restoring natureWe cannot restore nature – and deliver on our climate ambition – while destroying it with chemicals. This is why last year’s proposal on pesticides is crucial.

Today’s set of proposals on new genomic techniques and on reproductive materials provide solutions for replacing those harmful chemicals.

If, from the outset, a plant is more resilient to droughts or pests, it can sustain increasing climate extremes, and need less pesticides to grow and produce food.

First: the reform of the legislation on plant and forest reproductive material. From 11 different Directives – some dating back to the 1960s – we will go to 2 Regulations to give farmers access to diverse, high-quality, and climate-resilient seeds.

There will be sustainability requirements for all plant reproductive materialFor varieties that are developed to be tolerant to herbicides, there are also minimum conditions for their cultivation, such as crop rotation. We need to be sure that such plants do not harm their environment.

The new rules on forest reproductive material will support foresters to plant the right tree in the right place and help meet our target of 3 billion new trees by 2030.


I will go into the proposal on New Genomic Techniques more extensively, as this has raised questions already and Commissioner Kyriakides was unfortunately not able, as you heard, to be here today.

New Genomic Techniques have been developed in the last two decades, and very rapidly so. Member States have previously asked the Commission to study how these techniques can find a way into our legislative framework.

In many ways, New Genomic Techniques can give you the same result as through conventional and natural selection or through targeted crossbreeding, but with much more speed, precision, and efficiency. In other cases, the genetic modifications can be more complex.

In our proposal, we therefore introduce a clear split.

Plants developed with New Genomic Techniques which could have also been created the conventional way will require notification in a central register. The seeds must be labelled clearly to ensure our farmers can choose freely.

Plants that could not have been developed through classic selection or targeted crossbreeding will continue to go through an authorisation process, as already applies to GMO-crops.

For the organics sector, NGTs will not be allowed.

The proposals are the result of an extensive, thorough consultation and are built on science. They apply to plant breeding, not to other areas.

We put in place thorough procedures to maintain a high standard of protection, for our health and the environment.Farmers will have new, more resilient crops available to reduce their use of chemical pesticides and ensure crops are better adapted to climate change.There is a transparent process, and they will be able to make a clear and informed choice.

In parallel, we are also replying to the Council‘s request for additional information on the sustainable use of pesticides. Our reply makes clear how to deploy alternatives to chemicals in practically no time. The study also shows that our proposal to cut the use and risk of chemical pesticides in half will help guarantee our food- and feed security.


Let me conclude with a few words on food waste.

Nearly 59 million tonnes of food are wasted in the EU each year, that is more than 130 kilos per person.Meanwhile, we put a lot of pressure on land, using pesticides, water, and fertilisers to produce this food.If food waste were a Member State, it would be the fifth biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the EU

To waste food at this scale while more than 30 million Europeans cannot afford a proper meal every other day, and while hunger is again on the rise globally, is simply unacceptable.

It is also not what our farmers want: they want to produce high-quality food that feeds people, not [food] that ends trash cans.

That’s why we propose that Member States, by 2030, reduce food waste by 10% in processing and manufacturing and 30% in retail, restaurant, food services and households.

Member States can choose the most suitable measures to meet these targets.

We have also adopted a proposal to tackle textile waste, but Virginijus will go into more detail on that.


Finally, let me be clear that if we want to be serious about preserving our planet for future generations, if we want to be good ancestors, there can be no cherry picking. Today’s proposals are tightly linked to those on nature restoration and the sustainable use of pesticides.

Because for a liveable, sustainable future, we need healthy ecosystems. Our work is not done. Neither on the climate action, nor on the nature pillar, nor on the Green Deal itself.



Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius:

Good morning everyone, thank you for coming.

I’d like to start by saying that today’s package brings a unique set of targeted actions to boost Europe‘s resilience and complements the rest of our Green Deal initiatives.

I will focus more on our proposal for a new soil law, and our proposal to boost the sustainable management of wastes, focusing on two resource intensive sectors: textiles and food.

Let me start with soil first.

Leonardo Da Vinci said back in 1500:

“We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot.”

That still rings true today and it’s high time we change it for our own benefit.

Healthy soils are an essential part of the solution to strengthen resilience to natural disasters, such as floods and droughts that we see affect Europe more and more each year and that have become an alarming concern across our Union.

They also help achieve climate neutrality and zero pollution, revert biodiversity loss and halt desertification.

We need these soils to be healthy for countless reasons. For avoiding soil erosion, for carbon sequestration, for ensuring food production and delivering Europe‘s bioeconomy to  protect the health of our citizens.

Soil is the magic carpet that can do all these things all at once without us even noticing its powerful impact on our lives.But right now, the carpet is not looking good.

Up to 70 percent of our soils are in a poor state.

Many have been severely damaged by chemical pesticides and the overuse of nutrients, and 83% of them now contain pesticide residues. Our industrial pollution has also left us a legacy of over 3 million potentially contaminated sites across the EU, which pose a huge risk not only to the environment but also to our and our children’s’ health.

This is costing our economy more than 50 billion euros every year.

On top of that, droughts now cost us around 9 billion euros every year.

Healthy soils are natural water reservoirs. But when soil quality falls, the moisture content falls as well. That has led to a situation where desertification is now a real threat in several Member States.


Today we’re proposing to turn these things around. We are filling a major legal gap to bring soil – together with air and water and the marine environment – under our legal acquisThis will become the first EU law on soil.  Our ultimate objective is to achieve healthy soils by 2050, so that harm to people and environment is avoided, in line with our Zero Pollution ambition.

The draft Law we’re presenting includes a clear definition of soil health and a framework to monitor soil quality. Those will enable a solid knowledge base, bringing together data from national, private and EU sources, including Copernicus.

Importantly, this will allow us to assess the state of soils. Authorities and landowners will be able to take measures to improve conditions, so that soil can deliver its crucial functions.

One example: better data will allow to make the best out of precision farming, increasing yields while actually reducing water and fertiliser use.

The law also proposes sustainable management principles and regenerative practices that will allow farmers and foresters to enhance the quality of soils.These practices will increase carbon sequestration and water retention, which in turn will help reduce the effects of natural disasters and other systemic changes caused by climate change

We’re also opening the way to additional income opportunities for farmers and landowners, through a voluntary certification scheme for soil health and strong synergies with carbon farming and payments for ecosystem services. We expect a net increase of the value of healthy soils, as well as of the food that is produced on them.

Lastly, we are proposing measures to address soil contamination, an unfortunate legacy from industrial activity that we urgently need to tackle. Under the new law all contaminated soils will be transparently identified, mapped and assessed. Those posing an unacceptable risk will have to be remediated, following the ‘polluter pays principle‘, to make sure that the decontamination costs are borne by those responsible for the pollution.


This package is all about resilience and the sustainable use of resources. So the second initiative I want to mention is the proposal to combat waste in two value chains that cause huge pressures on resources: food and textiles.

Let me zoom in on textiles. Right now, textile waste is not only a growing problem. It’s a wasted opportunity. We generate 12.6 million tonnes of this waste every year.

5.2 million tonnes of textile waste is clothing and footwear. That’s 12 kilogrammes wasted for every person, every year. And only one fifth of that amount is collected separately for re-use or recycling.

That means that most of used textiles – around 80 percent – are lost to the economy, ending up in incinerators or landfills.


Our proposal is to involve the industry much more closely in the circular economy for textiles. We’re doing that by introducing mandatory and harmonised Extended Producer Responsibility schemes for textiles in all EU Member States.

That means making producers take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of the textiles they place on the EU market, especially of course when those products reach the end of their life – or the beginning of a new one.

We are also proposing rules to ensure that collected used textiles are sorted for reuse as a priority, and if they cannot be reused – for recycling. Energy recovery should be minimised and the landfilling of textiles should become a thing of the past.

This proposal should have two effects.

In the short term, it will help finance proper waste management in line with the polluter-pays principle. Better separate collection, sorting, re-use, and recycling within the EU will enhance the markets for second-hand textiles, create local jobs and support the social economy.

And over a longer time frame, it will increase the circularity of textiles manufacturing, boost circular economy business models and tackle fast fashion.There will be more research and innovation in innovative technologies, including fiber-to-fiber recycling.

Producers will have a bigger incentive to make products that are easier to recycle, because their financial contributions will depend on the circularity and environmental performance of textile products.

This is what we call “eco-modulation of fees”.


There is one other important aspect of this proposal.

It will clarify exactly what constitutes waste, and what we mean by re-usable textiles.

That will help reduce illegal shipments where waste is actually disguised as reusable products.

I very much hope that the co-legislators can move quickly with these proposals, as Europe needs them in delivering on the ground.


Thank you.