How did this small Italian town take on the powerful pesticide industry?

The town of Mals in northern Italy is surrounded by orchards where agri-businesses are using significant amounts of pesticides. In a remarkable display of people power, the town voted overwhelmingly to ban pesticides.

This victory shows how regulations can be used to protect the environment, people and entire communities. The people of Mals used European laws to protect their basic right to go about their day-to-day lives without the threat of pesticides.

This mini-documentary from Friends of the Earth Europe highlights their fight:

In 2014, Mals, a German-speaking town of 5,300 inhabitants in the north of Italy, became the first community in the world to hold a referendum on pesticide use. The result was a landslide: 75% voted for a ban.

The people of Mals used EU laws to justify a ban on pesticide use.  The treaty underpinning the EU aims to ensure the highest level of environmental protection by taking the ‘prevention is better than cure’ approach. This precautionary principle allows laws to be passed on the basis of potential, but unknown, risks.

This extends to the EU law covering pesticide use. So the people of Mals made use of these laws. It paid off in 2016, when Mayor Uli Veith introduced a de facto ban on pesticides.

However, the story is not yet over. The town is facing significant backlash from big industrial farming trade unions and the pesticide industry. The decision has been legally challenged multiple times and four years after the referendum, the people’s decision to ban pesticides hasn’t been implemented because of court delays.

This documentary is part of a series called Protect & Resist which explores the value of regulation in protecting people and planet. They have travelled across Europe to meet real people fighting to protect the things they cherish, using – or calling for – regulation to help their struggle.

This effort to highlight the value of regulation is happening in tandem with another project which aims to highlight the hidden problem of deregulation across the EU.

The European Environmental Bureau and the New Economics Foundation are working together on a project to build civil society resistance to deregulation ahead of the European elections next May.