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17th Oct 2021

Mercosur trade deal will fuel 'poison pesticides' back into EU

  • Some 56,000 people have been poisoned by pesticides in Brazil in the past decade alone (Photo: jetsandzeppelins)

The EU-Mercosur trade agreement, as it currently stands, will exacerbate the 'boomerang effect' of pesticides banned in the EU whose residues re-enter the bloc as food imports, a study on Tuesday (11 May) has found.

The EU exported 7,000 tonnes of pesticides, prohibited inside Europe due to environmental and health concerns, to the Mercosur bloc of South American countries (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) countries in 2018 and 2019.

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But residues of these dangerous substances have been found in agricultural products the EU imports from the Mercosur, such as fruits or vegetables.

EU law does not prohibit the export of pesticides banned in the EU to third countries, allowing companies to make profits by selling these chemicals to non-EU countries - what has previously triggered calls to ban the export of toxic pesticides to third countries.

Food coming from outside the EU, on average, has more than twice the amount of pesticide residues than products produced within the bloc.

In 2018, the EU exported a total of more than half a billion euros' worth of pesticides to Mercosur, mostly to Brazil (€446m worth).

Conversely, Mercosur exported dozens of agricultural products to the EU, worth over €21bn, during the same year - including soybeans, grains, fruits, and coffee.

However, the study reveals that 30 percent of the pesticides authorised for crops in Brazil (the leading exporter from Mercosur) and 20 percent of those approved in Paraguay are prohibited in the EU.

Argentina, for example, exported around €71m worth of pears and apples to the EU in 2018. But 14 pesticides, prohibited in the bloc, are used for farming these fruits in Argentina.

In 2018, seven percent of the total 781 food samples from Mercosur countries collected by the European Food Standards Agency were found to have pesticide residues above the EU's limits.

During the period 2019-2020, Brazil approved a record number of pesticides - including 37 prohibited in the EU.

German MEP Helmut Scholz, from The Left group in the European Parliament, said that the "alarming" findings of this study call for a review of the implications of the EU-Mercosur trade agreement.

"Once in force, the EU-Mercosur agreement will reinforce inequalities between and within the two regional blocks - instead of enabling fair trade and sustainable development," he said.

"European chemical corporations dumping toxic pesticides into Mercosur countries, including many banned in the EU, will see their profits and impunity soar, as they exploit weaker or missing regulations and laws," he added.

The EU-Mercosur agreement is currently subjected to a legal revision, a preliminary step before it is translated in all EU and Mercosur official languages and submitted to the European Parliament and member states for its ratification. In the European Council, unanimity is required.

But some EU countries, such as France and Austria, have raised concerns about the intensive agro-industrial model of Mercosur countries.

French and Swiss bans

Meanwhile, the author of the study and professor at the University of São Paulo, Larissa Mies Bombardi, accused the EU of adopting "double standards" on the use and export of pesticides, saying people of Mercosur member countries are treated as "second-class citizens", given the permissible exposure to substances banned in the EU.

Over the last decade, some 56,000 people have been poisoned by pesticides used in Brazil - an average of 15 cases per day. However, the actual number is estimated to be about 50 times higher since most intoxications go under-reported.

In 2022, France will be the first country in the EU to apply a ban on the export and transport of pesticides prohibited in the EU. The ban will also apply to the import of foods produced with such pesticides.

Switzerland has a similar ban in place since January 2021.

In its Farm to Fork strategy, the European Commission aims to cut the use of chemical pesticides by 50-percent by 2030.

EU wants to halve use of pesticides by 2030

The European Commission wants to cut chemical pesticides by 50 percent in the next decade - but the definitive target will be subject to the results of a risk assessment. Green NGOs have urged their full phase-out by 2035.

Opinion

What the EU public think of EU pesticide regulation

The EU is committed to reduce "the risk and use of pesticides by 50 percent" by 2030. However, given the level of controversy and public distrust surrounding EU pesticides regulation over the last decade, which reforms could garner public support?

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