Sunday

15th Dec 2019

Investigation

EU proposes pesticide ban, but key documents still secret

  • Due to the absence of internal EU border control on goods - and due to import from non-EU-countries - fruit, vegetables, rice and spices containing chlorpyrifos is sold and consumed all over Europe (Photo: Marcos Garcia Rey)

Time is running out for chlorpyrifos, the pesticide designed to kill insects, and a cause of brain damage to human fetuses and newly-born children.

The EU Commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have both publicly stated the present approval should not be renewed.

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Yet a final decision scheduled for December cannot be taken for granted.

In August EFSA experts declared that no detectable residues of chlorpyrifos in food can be accepted.

Sometime in September the commission informed EU member states it will propose a total ban on chlorpyrifos and related substance chlorpyrifos-methyl at the end of the year.

This is shown in a notification (dated 13 September) to the Danish parliament from the Danish government. The note only refers to an undated draft from the commission. An official version is expected to be published later in the autumn.

At the same time relevant background documents are still kept secret.

The EFSA has reacted positively to a request for access to a report on chlorpyrifos filed by another EU member country Spain – itself a producer and a heavy user of the pesticide.

But there is a catch: the requested documents will not be released until 18 October shortly before it will be tabled to the standing committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF).

The process is therefore difficult to follow from the outside.

Blocking minority?

There is a logic behind the secrecy: it is still an open question whether producing-countries and heavy-users of chlorpyrifos can form a blocking minority among the member states.

If so, they could overrule the commission's proposals for a total ban.

A disclosure of central arguments, could thus "jeopardize the ongoing peer-review process", EFSA's executive director, Berhard Url, has stated in at written reply.

Also, the still-secret document might shed light on why chlorpyrifos has been approved on an EU-level since 2005, although its hazardous effects was known and documented as early as 2000.

The use of chlorpyrifos is banned in eight member states but registered for use in 20.

Due to the absence of intra-EU border control on goods - and due to import from non-EU-countries - fruit, vegetables, rice and spices containing chlorpyrifos is sold and consumed all over Europe.

This was reported in June by EUobserver and others.

The investigation behind showed that food samples are regularly checked for accepted levels of residues by national authorities but only after the food has been distributed.

In many cases it has then already been sold and consumed.

Author bio

The investigation on chlorpyrifos is organised by Investigative Reporting Denmark and supported by Journalismfund.eu. Journalists from Knack in Belgium, Danwatch in Denmark, Le Monde in France, Dagbladet in Norway, Newsweek in Poland, Ostro in Slovenia, El Confidencial in Spain, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting in US and Andrew Wesley from the UK contributed.

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