|Objective 4.3.5 - Promote the sustainable use of genetic resources for food, and agriculture.
Humans’ age-old agricultural activities have contributed, in the course of history, to the creation of a large pool of biodiversity. Since the 1950s, however, due to economic pressure and intensive urbanisation, drastic genetic erosion of old landraces and cultivars took place and actions for collecting, evaluating and conserving them became, and still are, urgently needed. Data show that about 50 per cent of the main native livestock breeds (cattle, pig, sheep, goat and poultry) in the EU-15 countries are either extinct or classed as endangered or critical (EEA, 2006).
Biological and genetic diversity in agriculture is essential for the sustainable development of agricultural production and of rural areas. Genetically poorly diversified agricultural areas are indeed more threatened by environmental stresses and disasters; besides, genetically diversified food offers a greater variety of nutrients useful for good general health and resistance to disease. The necessary measures should be taken to collect, conserve, characterise and utilise the potential of that biodiversity in a sustainable way to promote the global aims of the CAP. The conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources in agriculture is one of the objectives of the CBD. It is also a major objective of the FAO’s Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilisation of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and it is a key topic of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
Coordinated actions at Belgian level (including regional level) must be set up for a better, safe conservation strategy for the genetic diversity that is essential for food and agriculture. The conservation of agricultural genetic diversity is to be achieved through in situ conservation of local species, varieties, domestic animal breeds and microbial life forms with actual or potential value. Actions should also be taken to improve the development of adequate gene banks useful for the ex situ conservation of genetic resources for food and agriculture. Such conservation requires an adequate system of economic and social incentives, combined with increased consumer awareness. The Regions take the conservation of breeds and varieties into consideration in their agri-environment measures. Ongoing initiatives cover, among other things, the establishment of private orchards, the safeguarding of poultry varieties and a programme to promote the rearing of the “Blanc-Bleu mixte” breed of cattle and the “mouton ardennais roux” breed of sheep in Wallonia (in situ conservation) and the establishment of cryo-banks for ruminant rearing in Wallonia (ex situ conservation).
A specific national strategy focusing on the management of agricultural biodiversity should be developed in the first place for coordinating the diverse actions already going on and to promote new ones. All the actions will contribute to the implementation of both the FAO’s Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA) and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture that stipulate clearly the implementation of a National Strategy and a National Inventory of plant genetic resources for agriculture.
Furthermore, the importance of biodiversity for food and nutrition should be taken more into account by public health and food chain safety policies and their scientific bodies.
|13. Genetic diversity maintained
|Objective 4.3.6 - Reduce the impacts of pesticides on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Pesticides are used to combat organisms considered to be harmful to crops and have therefore a detrimental effect on biodiversity. It is nevertheless possible to reduce the impacts of pesticides on biodiversity and ecosystem services by lessening their impacts on non-target organisms. A range of measures, if correctly applied, can contribute to reducing these impacts; they are either related to the choice of the pesticide or to the way it is spread into the environment (for example, organic agriculture, integrated agriculture, biological control, prohibition of pesticides with long-term repercussions for the abundance and diversity of non-target species; and application of risk mitigation measures such as buffer zones in order to protect aquatic organisms).
From 2013, the NAPAN (Nationaal Actie Plan d’Action National) has been established as the Belgian national action plan for pesticide reduction as requested by the EU directive 2009/128. It includes the Federal Reduction Plan for Pesticides 2013-2017 (FRPP), and the plans from the three Regions. Each of these plans comprises both specific actions and actions carried out jointly with the other members of the NAPAN Task Force. It aims to reach the objectives of reducing risks linked to pesticides as defined in EU Directive 2009/128/CE establishing a framework for Community action to achieve the sustainable use of pesticides.
The FRPP is coordinated by the federal agencies in charge of the standardization of products, which allows to take many structural changes related to pesticides issues through legislative changes .
Examples of the measures foreseen in the federal and regional plans to be implemented at the national level are (i) the harmonization of methods, standards and reports on water contamination by pesticides, (ii) ensuring balanced information for non-professional users of products at the point of sale regarding the right conditions of use, the risks to public health and the environment, including biodiversity and ecosystem services.
|8. Pollution reduced
|Objective 4.3.7 - Prevent cultivated GMOs from leading to the loss, displacement or genetic introgression into local agricultural varieties and related wild flora and prevent them from affecting the surrounding natural biodiversity.
The use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture for food or feed crops and their release into the environment per se are issues of growing importance. This importance increases in line with the technological progress made in this area, as the use of GMOs can potentially have negative impacts on the biodiversity of the environment. One risk is the escape of newly introduced genes into the surrounding environment (especially through pollen) so that the genetic material of local agricultural varieties or wild related flora can become contaminated. This can be prejudicial for instance if the newly introduced gene (transgene), aimed at agricultural purposes, has adverse effects if spread into the wild nature. Since the purpose of genetic modification will often be acceleration of the growth of cultivated plants or growth in adverse environmental conditions, cross-pollination could lead to mutations in wild plants that make such plants more invasive. Depending on the new character conferred by the transgenes, the impact of genetically modified plants should be carefully evaluated with regard to various components of biodiversity, representative of the various functions of the ecosystem, not only in the agricultural ecosystem itself but also with regard to the related vicinal wild terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
There is also a risk that GM standardised cultivated varieties will supplant locally adapted agricultural varieties, mainly for economical and marketing reasons and generally as large monocultures, and would therefore counteract Objectives 4c.2 to 4c.5 and Objective 5.8.
Moreover, with GM varieties being covered by patents generally owned by multinationals, efforts must be made to prevent that their release in the environment would alter traditional agricultural practices, thus counteracting Objectives 5.10 and 6.
We must also prevent marketing, economic forces and consumption habits from threatening and contaminating wild ecosystems. Public awareness of consumption behaviours increasing such threats should be raised (cf. obj. 4b.1 and 4g.1).
On the other hand, GM plants are developed for industrial purposes (to make pharmaceuticals, bioplastics and other biomaterials), and industrial crops take over the area previously used for food crops. Once again, it is extremely important to carefully monitor the ecological consequences of the spreading of those transgenes as well as the ethical and social consequences, and decisions must be taken to avoid negative impacts.
Some GM cultures are resistant to herbicides or insecticides. Cultivation of these plants could lead to adjustments in agricultural practices (a change in the amount and type of herbicides/insecticides used) that have a direct impact on the environment and on biodiversity in particular.
In order to pursue the operational objective mentioned above, case-by-case studies on environmental risks for biodiversity and on socio-economic considerations of introduction of GMO cultures in Belgium are needed. Such studies would provide a scientific background to facilitate cooperative discussions between the Regional and Federal authorities and between the various stakeholders in Belgium when deciding to import and/or cultivate GMOs. These studies should be coordinated with the implementation of Objective 7.8 aimed at promoting research on and assessing the effects of GMOs on biodiversity and socio-economic aspects.
Finally, such environmental and socio-economic impact studies would have to be based on a good knowledge of the existing agricultural biodiversity of our country. The establishment of complete “living” (adaptable) catalogues covering this should therefore be encouraged.
|7. Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
|Objective 4.3.8 - Ensure that the production of plants, inter alia non indigenous plants, for renewable energy does not negatively impact on biodiversity.
Biomass* energy and biofuels* are set to cover an ever-increasing share of the EU’s future transport and heating needs. The EU is supporting biofuels with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, boosting the decarbonisation of transport fuels, diversifying fuel supply sources, offering new income opportunities in rural areas and developing long-term replacements for fossil fuel.
In 2003, the Biofuels Directive on the promotion of the use of biofuels and other renewable fuels for transport set out indicative targets for Member States.
In December 2005: the European Commission adopted an Action Plan designed to increase the use of energy from forestry, agriculture and waste materials.
With regard to CAP, the decoupling of income support from production introduced in 2003 by the reformed CAP helps to facilitate the supply of energy crops. In particular, crops that were eligible for direct payments only under the non-food regime on set-aside areas may now be cultivated on any area without loss of income support.
Under Rural development policy, investments on or near farms, for example in biomass processing, as well as the mobilisation of unused biomass by forest holders, can also be supported. The Commission has proposed Community strategic guidelines for rural development that emphasise renewable energy, including biofuels. It is also proposing a specific ad hoc group to consider biomass and biofuel opportunities within national rural development programmes.
EU Directive 2009/28/EC on the promotion of the (sustainable) use of energy from renewable sources raises the share of renewable energy to 20 % by 2020 and the share of renewable energy in the transport sector specifically to 10 %. This directive is challenging, especially because a large number of plants grown to produce renewable energy are non-indigenous. As demonstrated by numerous studies on biofuels, imports to meet our need for renewable resources have dramatic consequences for the fight against climate change or the protection of biodiversity, as they indirectly lead to land use changes: they contribute to accelerate the destruction or degradation of natural habitats and increase the introduction of non-indigenous plants for that production. Intensive production of any form of biomass has serious negative impacts on biodiversity as a result of the use of fertilizers, pesticides, monoculture and forest clearing. In order to meet the growing demand for biomass and biofuels, the EU already imports large quantities of crops with substantial environmental impacts, such as palm oil or sugar cane. This must not lead to unacceptable pressures on biodiversity and food production in the exporting countries. This is not only an issue for biofuels, but biofuels will increase the pressure.
It is necessary to consider carefully how policies in Belgium can best increase the use of biomass and biofuels without damaging biodiversity. However, current attribution criteria in Belgium (established until 2013) only take into account the limitation in the use of fertilizers and pesticides, yet there are no specific criteria related to biodiversity. As a follow-up to the two studies on the impacts of biofuel production on biodiversity carried out in 2009 and 2010, Belgium will defend a position aiming at the compulsory inclusion of new environmental criteria within the framework of the revision of Renewable Energy Directive 2009/28/EC. Incentives should be restricted to the promotion of biofuels produced from feedstock that do not create an additional demand for land and do not compete with other uses like food, materials, biodiversity.
|9. Invasive alien species prevented and controlled
|Objective 4.4 - Fishery in marine and inland waters
Belgium has a limited coastline and the country’s professional marine fishing fleet is relatively small. Its ships only land 1 % of total landings of the countries bordering the North Sea. About 30,000 tons of fish (mostly flat fish and cod) are brought ashore by Belgian fishermen each year. Other marine products (oysters) and the aquaculture* production in marine waters and freshwaters are currently not exploited. Taking into account that the state of the commercially exploited fishery resources is assessed at the European level and not at the level of the individual member states, marine biodiversity is particularly threatened in our coastal zone and shelf sea, where direct and indirect disturbances are concentrated. Two important threats are the overexploitation of marine resources and the adverse effects of certain fishing methods (in particular bottom-affecting gear) employed not only by Belgian fisheries but also by fishing vessels from foreign countries active in Belgium waters. Despite the creation of several international instruments to regulate fishery and its impact on the environment, the pressure on the marine ecosystem and fish populations is still present. Besides professional fishermen, also recreational fishermen are active at sea.
Fishery and aquaculture in the North Sea are governed by the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), established in 1983 and reviewed in 1992, 2002, and 2013. The new CFP came into effect from 2014 with the objective of an ecological sustainable fishery and aquaculture (see art.1 of the CFP) and to achieve Maximum Sustainable Yield by 2020. The CFP takes into account the biological, economic and social dimensions of fishing. The CFP addresses four main areas, dealing with (1) conservation of fish stocks (such as establishment of total allowable catches (TACs) of sea fish that can safely be caught every year to allow for renewal of fish stock), (2) structures (such as vessels, port facilities and fish-processing plants), (3) the common organisation of the market and (4) an external fisheries policy which includes fishing agreements with non-Community members and negotiations in international organisations.
EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008/56/EC) on the protection and conservation of the marine environment establishes a framework for Member states to take the necessary measures to achieve Good Environmental Status of the marine environment by 2020 at the latest. For that purpose, marine strategies shall be developed and implemented in order to (a) protect and preserve the marine environment, prevent its deterioration, or, where practicable, restore marine ecosystems in areas where they have been adversely affected and (b) to prevent and reduce inputs in the marine environment, with a view to phasing out pollution so as to ensure that there are no significant impacts on or risks to marine biodiversity, marine ecosystems, human health or legitimate uses of the sea.
An important national instrument is the Law of 20 January 1999 on the protection of the marine environment in the areas under Belgian jurisdiction. This foresees the identification and designation of marine protected areas (MPA) (among others in application of the EU Habitat and Birds Directives). Work on MPAs and threatened and declining species is also ongoing under OSPAR. An impact analysis of human activities (including fisheries) and measures in view of achieving the objective of Good Environmental Status (Marine Strategy Framework Directive) are included in the programme of measures. Already in 2014 the Marine Spatial Planning proposed measures to reduce the impact of bottom-affecting gear that would contribute to the Good Environmental Status. As there are also foreign fishermen active in the Belgian part of the North Sea, these measures had to be negotiated and adopted following the procedures of the Common Fisheries Policy in order to make them legally binding for all fishermen. After a long and hard negotiation process the European Parliament rejected the proposed measures. As measures are still needed to reduce the impact of bottom affecting gear, the new Marine Spatial Plan (which will enter in to force in 2020) contains 4 searching zones where new measures will be developed and proposed.
For CITES-listed marine species, the permitting procedure with regards to the commercialisation of species caught in the high sea was approved at CITES CoP16 (March 2013). This way there is a common understanding of the provisions of the Convention relating to the introduction of sea specimens taken in the marine environment not under the jurisdiction of any State in order to facilitate the standard implementation of trade controls for such specimens introduced from the sea and to improve the accuracy of CITES trade data.
In Belgium, inland water fishery can be considered to be a leisure activity or a sport. It is practised mostly for entertainment and on a limited basis for food, both in artificial areas specially managed for fishing (private ponds, fishing grounds) and in the public hydrographic network of rivers and canals. Belgium’s current legislation only covers the management of the public hydrographical network. Several improvements in the management of standing waters by fishermen should be promoted both to ensure an ecological management of the aquatic ecosystems and improve the quality of the local fish populations.
Belgium is a Party to the Ramsar Convention on the protection of wetlands (i.e. inland waters and marine waters) established in 1971 which provides the framework for conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands.
The ICES Code of Practice on the Introductions and Transfers of Marine Organisms sets forth recommended procedures and practices to diminish the risks of detrimental effects from the intentional introduction and transfer of marine (including brackish water) organisms (ICES, 2005).
|6. Sustainable management of marine living resources
|Objective 4.4.1 - Promote the implementation of good fishing practices in the North Sea, favourable to fish protection and their habitats, including the implementation of the Common Fishery Policy.
Belgium will promote the implementation of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries to ensure the long-term sustainability of living marine resources and protection of their habitat. To help implement the provisions regarding fishing operations (Article 8 of the Code), Technical Guidelines are addressed to the individual states, international organisations, fishery management bodies, owners, managers and charters of fishing vessels as well as fishermen and the general public. They provide practical advice to ensure all fishing operations are conducted responsibly. Particular attention will be paid to minimising bycatch. Implementation of this objective should be in accordance with the management of marine protected areas and an Integrated Coastal Zone Management strategy (see Operational objective 3.2), as well as with the future European Marine Strategy. The CFP is the instrument (legal basis) to implement the fishery-related measures.
|1. Awareness increased
|Objective 4.4.2 - Ensure that recreational and sport fishing practices at sea and inland waters respond to ecological management objectives to avoid adverse impacts on biodiversity.
The impact of recreational fishing at sea on fish stocks or on other elements of the marine biodiversity has not been assessed yet. At present, recreational gill-net fishing at sea is prohibited to limit the bycatch of birds and sea mammals. In the MPA “Vlaamse Banken” that covers about 1/3th of the Belgian Part of the North Sea all recreational fisheries with bottom disturbing gear are prohibited.
Wherever it takes place, inland water fisheries should respect the ecosystem quality by avoiding unnecessary, inefficient or harmful fish stocking (overstocking, ponds connected to other water bodies, etc.). When necessary, the planting of indigenous fish should respect local genetic strains and the populations structure. Populations of species of no fishing interest should be respected. Stocking of non-indigenous species should be avoided in order to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive alien species. Introgression of wild fish populations by domestic strains of fish should be avoided. Exaggerated baiting and consequent dystrophication must be avoided, especially in lakes and reservoirs. Furthermore, the monitoring of these activities should be strengthened.
Planning and restoration of inland water systems should be promoted: through biomanipulation, fisheries may contribute to rehabilitation of clear water systems with macrophytes and high species richness instead of poor and banal turbid water systems characterised by algal blooms. Stocking of fish should achieve a balance between the carrying capacity of aquatic ecosystems and the size and structure of fish populations in order to promote clear water systems, so preventing turbid water systems with poor species diversity. Stocking of pools should be avoided: they are too small to carry populations of large fish. Furthermore, maintenance and creation of fish-free ponds should be promoted for specific biota, for example amphibians.
|10. Pressures on vulnerable ecosystems reduced
|Objective 4.4.3 - Prevent GM fish from threatening marine and freshwater biodiversity and populations.
GM varieties of fish have already been commercialised in some parts of the world, intended including to grow faster and reach a bigger size. This practice is not applied in Belgium yet. Whereas those fish are supposed to be raised in confined areas, drastic measures should be taken to prevent those varieties from escaping into the wild. After all, some GM varieties of fish have already been shown to threaten the future of the species when they come into reproductive contact with the wild related members. Furthermore, GM fish could threaten local species and ecosystems through their invasive behaviour.
Similarly for other marine GM products, the consequences of interbreeding and competitive behaviour with wild relatives should be carefully investigated and, as a rule, should be avoided at all cost. The Belgian Marine Environmental law prohibits the deliberate introduction of genetically modified organisms.
Specific attention needs to be given to side effects of genetic manipulations aimed at increasing the size of commercial species (amplification of growth hormone gene).
|6. Sustainable management of marine living resources
|Objective 4.5 - Wise use of wetlands.
Wetlands are essential components of Belgian biodiversity which are under severe threat. They provide for useful ecosystem services such as water retention, water purification, recreational areas, wildfowl habitats and more.
The Convention requires that “The Contracting Parties shall formulate and implement their planning so as to promote the conservation of the wetlands included in the List, and as far as possible the wise use of wetlands in their territory” (art. 3.1). Wise use of wetlands has been defined by the COP of the convention as “the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development”. “Ecological character” is “the combination of the ecosystem components, processes and benefits/services that characterise the wetland at a given point in time” (Rés. XI.1. Annex A COP Ramsar Convention, 2005).
Nine Ramsar sites are designated in Belgium (4 in Flanders and 4 in Wallonia).
The Water Framework Directive (Directive 2000/60/CE) sets a framework for a Community policy in the field of water. It establish a framework for the protection of inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater in order, among other things, to prevent further deterioration and protect and enhance the status of aquatic ecosystems and, with regard to their water needs, terrestrial ecosystems and wetlands directly depending on the aquatic ecosystems.
The wise use provisions of the Convention apply, as far as possible, to all wetland ecosystems. Societal choice is inherent in advancing human well-being and poverty alleviation, which depends on the maintenance of ecosystem benefits/services. Within the context of ecosystem approaches, planning processes for promoting the delivery of wetland ecosystem benefits/services should be formulated and implemented in the context of the maintenance or enhancement, as appropriate, of wetland ecological character at appropriate spatial and temporal scales. (Rés. XI.1. Annex A COP Ramsar Convention, 2005).
|7. Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
|Objective 4.5.1 - Apply Ramsar Convention guidelines on Wise use of Wetlands Concept as far as relevant.
The COP of Ramsar Convention has published detailed guidelines on various issues of wetlands use. Main guidelines are about: Integrated Coastal Zone Management; Inventory; Laws and institutions; Management planning; National wetland policies; Participation in management; Restoration; Risk assessment; River basin management; Water and water allocation; Wise Use concept. Those Guidelines should be implemented through relevant public authorities competent with wetlands management or wetlands related uses.