Civil society organisations are calling on the EU to halt the production and export of banned pesticides to third countries, some of which they say can be detected in food sold back to the EU market.
Despite being banned in the EU, European companies continue to produce and sell pesticides to third countries with lower human health and environmental laws.
A recent study authored by Swiss NGO Public Eye and the Greenpeace’s investigative journalist team Unearthed found that 41 banned pesticides were notified for export from the EU in 2018, predominantly from seven countries.
This continues on the back of an EU commitment to reduce the use of hazardous pesticides on European soil, which campaigners say undermines the EU’s green ambitions.
Under the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy, the EU has committed to set a trade policy that supports a European ecological transition while at the same time promoting a global transition to sustainable agrifood systems.
“EU trade policy should enhance cooperation with and to obtain ambitious commitments from third countries in key areas,” the F2F strategy reads, offering up the use of pesticides as an example.
“Through its external policies, including international cooperation and trade policy, the EU will pursue the development of Green Alliances on sustainable food systems with all its partners,” it says, adding that the EU will seek to ensure that there is an ambitious sustainability chapter in all EU bilateral trade agreements.
But campaigners point out that pesticides deemed unsafe for EU soil run the same risks elsewhere.
“The impact of hazardous pesticides on human health and biodiversity is global, and the EU must take a lead role in stopping support for any practices that jeopardise human health and biodiversity,” said Angeliki Lysimachou, science policy officer of Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe.
She stressed that this is not only a matter of health and environmental protection but also of social and ethical rights, pointing out that farmworkers in many of these countries have sub-optimal protective gear for spraying.
Speaking at a recent event on the topic, MEP Eric Andrieu highlighted the need for the EU to raise their ambition in this area, calling out the “total hypocrisy” of this position, adding a suggestion that free trade agreements should be modified to counter this.
While Baskut Tuncak, former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, stressed that EU laws on pesticide use are the most stringent in the world, he said that a “regrettably large loophole” has been created in respect to pesticide exports to countries with weaker regulations.
“EU policymakers have the power to do something about this,” he stressed, saying that they have an obligation to close this loophole and that this was long overdue.
However, Juergen Helbig, international chemicals policy coordinator in DG ENV, emphasised that the Rotterdam Convention, a multilateral treaty designed to promote shared responsibilities in relation to the import of hazardous chemicals, works to promote information exchange between countries, allowing them to make decisions based on their own specific circumstances.
He added that banning exports may not be the most effective strategy and that enforcing more stringent checks on imports of food, or considering the use of sanctions, may be a better way to discourage their use.
In a statement, CropLife International, an international trade association of agrochemical companies, stressed that the health and safety of consumers and pesticide users remain the industry’s “highest priority” but that some pesticides that are banned in the EU have important uses elsewhere.
“One size does not fit all – agriculture, pests and diseases are different across regions and countries,” the statement warns, adding that pesticides are not automatically more hazardous or less necessary because they are not authorised in Europe.
However, campaigners point out food grown with the use of these pesticides is imported back into the EU.
When a pesticide is banned, “import tolerances” a maximum residue limit set for imported products to meet the needs of international trade is set.
While these are permitted for pesticides that have been banned in the EU for public health reasons, those that are banned environmental reasons, or for human health reasons other than consumers’ risk, can still be allowed in imported food.
A recent report from the Pesticide Action Network EU (PAN) found that 74 banned pesticides were found as residues in 5,811 food samples in the EU, including the toxic fungicide carbendazim, detected in 1,596 of the samples.
This also means EU farmers are being exposed to unfair competition from abroad, they warn.
However, Klaus Berend, head of DG SANTE’s pesticides and biocides unit, suggested that pesticides banned for environmental reasons may soon be taken into account for imports as part of the EU’s Green Deal.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Gerardo Fortuna]