18th Aug 2022

EU urged to stop export of toxic pesticides to third countries

  • In its Farm to Fork strategy, the European Commission aims to cut the use of chemical pesticides by 50-percent, and to reduce fertilisers by 20-percent, by 2030 (Photo: jetsandzeppelins)

A group of 70 NGOs has urged the European Commission to ban the export to third countries of pesticides prohibited inside Europe - and stop the import of food produced with such pesticides from outside the bloc.

In 2018, EU member states approved the export of 81,615 tonnes of pesticides to third countries, containing 41 hazardous substances that have been banned for use in European fields due to environmental and health concerns, a study by Public Eye and Greenpeace Unearthed revealed earlier this year.

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  • An investigation by NGO Pesticide Action Europe revealed that the residues of 74 pesticides banned in the EU were found in food products tested on the European market in 2018 (Photo: heather_on3)

"Maintaining the current practice would contradict the Green Deal and the commission's commitment under the Farm to Fork Strategy to promote safety and sustainability standards outside the EU to achieve sustainable food systems 'not only within its borders but also outside'," reads the letter NGOs sent to EU officials on Thursday (5 November).

Most exports went to low- and middle-income countries - such as Brazil, Ukraine, Morocco, Mexico and South Africa - with the majority of pesticides coming from the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium and Spain.

The study shows that the largest exporters of these hazardous pesticides are some 30 companies, including the agriculture multinational Syngenta, German giants like Bayer and BASF and other small firms, such as Italy's Finchimica and Germany's Alzchem.

"EU companies are taking advantage of weak human health and environmental national laws in order to sell, to third countries, pesticides that are considered too dangerous for use in Europe," said Angeliki Lysimachou from NGO Pesticide Action Europe.

"This is simply immoral yet the commission is giving its consent," she added.

Boomerang effect

While the bloc's rules on pesticides are considered one of the most strict in the world, the 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.

Earlier this year, UN expert Baskut Tuncak said that rich countries often create "double standards" that allow trading locally-prohibited substances in other parts of the world - where regulations are less stringent.

"The EU continues to export such pesticides and toxic industrial chemicals, resulting in widespread infringements of human rights to life, dignity and freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in low and middle-income countries," Tuncak said in a statement earlier this year.

Meanwhile, a separate investigation carried out by NGO Pesticide Action Europe revealed that the residues of 74 pesticides banned in the EU were found in food products tested on the European market in 2018.

The fungicide carbendazim, found toxic to reproduction, was one of the most-detected in the study.

"With a sort of a boomerang effect, these pesticides find their way back into Europe as residues found in imported food products," said Lysimachou.

Most pesticides were found in plant-based products, such as teas, herbs and fruits, but also in exotic fruit sold in Europe such as guavas, goji berries, breadfruit, cherimoyas as well as peppercorns or coriander leaves.

Overall, the study indicates that imported food tends to have a higher amount of residues than food grown in the EU.

French first

In 2022, France will be the first country in the EU to apply a ban on export and transport plant protection products which are banned in the EU for reasons of health or environmental protection, after a legal battle against agrochemical companies earlier this year.

The ban will also apply to the import of foods produced with such pesticides.

Consequently, NGOs are calling on the commission to follow this example to further sustainable food systems across the globe.

"The EU has a global leadership role to play on these issues and can help to achieve an international consensus that these abhorrent practices, which result in discrimination and exploitation, must end," the group of 70 NGOs said.

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