Researchers have found that chemical pesticide-based use is a likely cause of biodiversity loss, with a decline of invertebrates, amphibians and bird populations impacted by the use of pesticides, and further wider damage to ecosystem functioning. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has gone as far as to claim that the problem has reached a point of severity and in need of urgent action. 

But how to implement that action?  

In Europe, regulatory legislation was introduced in 2011 aiming to phase out chemical pesticides and replace them with non-chemical plant protection practices. This push for a transformation in agricultural practices was further supported by the European Commission’s 2020 Farm to Fork Strategy, which aims to change the systems used to farm in a more extreme way by using new knowledge, farming methods, reconfigured value chains and markets, and new economic actors. The objective is to half the use of chemical pesticides by 2030, which if enabled by new policy framework, would mean large shifts in agriculture. 


Supervised by Professor Andy Stirling, the Transformative regulation of chemical pesticide-based agricultural systems (Trans-Reg) research project aims to understand both the ideational and knowledge politics behind the use of chemical pesticide-based agricultural practices in Europe. This will enable planning for future transformations in the implementation of these potentially ‘trajectory breaking’ techniques, following the 2020 Farm to Fork Strategy. 

Research is needed to understand why changes are yet been implemented, following the regulatory legislation of 2011, which will be shared with policymakers to help govern future transformations in farming strategies.  

The key objectives of the study are to map contending proposals and ideas surrounding the regulation of chemical pesticides used in agriculture in the late 2000’s and early 2020’s, identify competing arguments about strategies to implement legislation and how these affected policy implementation. Further, the researchers wish to identify the interpretive framings demonstrated within arguments about environmental risk assessment and comparative hazard assessment; to develop a theory that links actors’ interpretative framings to their assumptions about regulatory meaning. 

Research Approach  

This project will involve four stages: 

  1. Researching the creation of new regulatory regimes within EU institutions to identify the differences in the desired purpose of proposed regulatory legislation, the problems it needed to address, the appropriate objects of attention, the anticipated interventions and preferred agricultural solutions.  
  2. Studying how the assumptions that framed the regulatory legislation in 2011 have been reinterpreted in the UK and Denmark by different networks of state and non-state actors during policy implementation. 
  3. Researching the relationship between assumptions of the meaning of new legislation and scientific and policy arguments at European levels about reforms. Debates over the broadening environmental risk and methods for comparative hazard assessment will take place, and identify the extra scientific interpretive framings that underpin actor network’s competing claims for those debates and their broader assumptions. 
  4. Explore if, and how, on-going debate following the 2011 legislation has prompted the need to support the 2020 Farm to Fork strategy’s proposed reduction/ substitution of pesticides, reflecting changing ideas. A workshop will discuss ‘transformative regulation’ of chemical pesticides with stakeholders and researchers to discuss what information was gained from the project. 

Together, these studies will provide a basis for understanding how various actors have sought to condition policymakers and others’ understandings of what is at stake in chemical pesticide-based agricultural practice, as key aspects of efforts to foster - and to resist - structural transformation of those practices.  

Impact and outreach   

This research will provide useful insights into how precisely opposition to transformative change is exerted, and how it might be overcome.  

The research will help illuminate what successful ‘transformative regulatory policy’ in this area might mean. This should have a larger positive impact on agriculture and the overall sustainability of farming in order to prevent further harm to our ecosystems. 

The target audiences include legislators, policymakers, NGOs and farming associations working in areas that link pesticides, agriculture and sustainability. 

Project Partners  

  • Research Center for Transformation (CENIT) - School of Economics and Business of the National University of San Martín