Pesticide with EU-banned substance still widely used in Bulgarian agriculture

Potato harvesting [Videograb from Valia Ahchieva's film]

EURACTIV Bulgaria’s investigative journalist Valia Ahchieva depicts in her latest production on YouTube a sad reality: a plant protection product called Mocap containing an EU-banned active ingredient is not only being used but also subsidised by Bulgaria’s ministry of agriculture.

While the European Green deal envisions making the EU climate-neutral by 2050 and MEPs vow to their constituents that they will be getting safe and healthy food, this called ‘green optimism’ struggles to find fertile ground in some member states, Bulgaria being a good example.

The EU’s flagship food policy From Farm to Fork (F2F) sets out concrete targets for greening the sector, including a 50% reduction in the use and risk of pesticides.

Nevertheless, the Bulgarian ministry of agriculture has authorized the use of ethoprophos – an active substance banned for use throughout the EU.

Ethoprophos is used as an active ingredient in plant protection products to control wireworms in potato crops as well as in other vegetable crops such as tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and in some cases on melons, watermelons and pumpkins.

The European Commission revoked the authorisation for ethoprophos which can no longer be sold or distributed since September 2019 while previously purchased stock cannot be used after March 2020.

In Bulgaria, however, the ethopropos-based product Mocap (active substance ethrophoros 100g./kg) has been authorized again by the deputy executive director of the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency (BFSA) – Nikolay Rosnev in December 2020 (as shown by document obtained by EURACTIV Bulgaria).

The Agency has allowed the product’s placing on the market for limited and controlled use.

A letter from the National Association of Potato Producers in Bulgaria notes that BFSA is not responsible for any lack of efficacy or phytotoxicity related to the application of Mokap.

This means that the responsibility for its use is transferred solely on the farmer applying the product.

‘Highly toxic’

The Commission has banned the substance as ‘highly toxic’ while the Bulgarian authorities allow its use without taking any responsibility for the consequences.

Moreover, under a special state aid program to control wireworms on potatoes, the State Fund for Agriculture paid the Bulgarian farmers nearly 1 million euros to cover the costs of the insecticide.

Although there are seven other EU-approved plant protection products to combat pests on potatoes, Bulgaria allows and subsidies the banned Mokap.

What raises even more questions is the fact that the insecticide has become even more expensive in Bulgaria since the EU ban. Its price has risen by almost 70%, according to documents obtained by EURACTIV Bulgaria.

Emergency situation?

The Deputy Executive Director of BFSA Nikolay Rosnev commented that the product banned in the EU is allowed on the basis of an EU regulation on the marketing of plant protection products (EC No. 1107/2009)

The regulation reads that in special circumstances, a member state can allow the use of an unauthorized plant protection product for up to 120 days.

France, for instance, has recently approved a bill allowing the emergency use of banned neonicotinoid pesticides to help struggling sugar beet growers.

Environmentalists have always complained that emergency claims could actually bypass the EU pesticide bans as countries could abuse extraordinary authorisations undermining the effectiveness of restrictions.

Article 53 of the EU regulation also reads that, before lifting a ban on a plant protection product, a scientific report on the emergency situation in the EU member state must be sent to the Commission. It comes as no surprise that this has not been the case with Bulgaria.

Contacted by EURACTIV’s Ahchieva, the plant protection inspectors in six regional directorates for food safety denied the existence of any ‘emergency situation’ related to potato pests in Bulgaria.

According to the Bulgarian officials in charge, it turns out that without the EU-banned Mokap, not a single potato can be grown in the country.

Asked why the French and the Polish potatoes, for example, are not treated with Mokap, Katya Trencheva, an agrotechnology professor at the University of Forestry, commented that most likely, all agro-technical measures that are needed are strictly observed in those countries.

“There is a sequence of actions that every farmer must follow in order to have clean and quality produce. At the end of the day, the most important thing is people’s health,” she said.

As ironic as it may seem, the national agency that should monitor the compliance with the food standards in the EU’s poorest member state is the one that allows the use of the toxic insecticide – and even makes Bulgarian citizens pay for it.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna]

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