Retailer bans suspect pesticides
The UK retailer and farming enterprise, the Co-op, has banned the use of 24 pesticides worldwide in crops it purchases because of rising consumer concerns about health and environmental impacts. As Britain's biggest farmer, the Co-op believes governments must start applying the 'precautionary principle' to existing and new pesticides and increase support for safer alternatives.
Serious consumer concerns about the safety of food grown using pesticides is fuelled by secrecy in the food and agrochemical industries. The Co-op predicts that unless action is taken these factors will conspire to derail consumer confidence and once again undermine the livelihoods of UK farmers. A new report from the Co-op addresses the problems of agrochemical use in intensive agriculture, and provides some sustainable solutions1.
Retailers, like other stakeholders, are concerned about the high profile pesticide scares, crises like BSE and the foot and mouth epidemic.
Now the Co-op has announced that it will focus particularly on the organophosphate (OPs) nerve poisons and the environmentally persistent organochlorines that worry consumers.
There is concern that exposure to some of these chemicals may be implicated in serious long term health effects including declining sperm counts and increasing rates of testicular cancer and breast cancer.
OPs are the most widely used group of insecticides in the world. They are among the most acutely toxic of all pesticides to insects, vertebrate animals and humans. OPs are hazardous both to professional and amateur users, and are regularly detected in food items such as fruit and vegetables. The latest results from the UK government’s pesticide residue analysis show the safety limit (known as the acute reference dose) can be exceeded.
Lindane has been singled out as a problematic organochlorine. It is known to act as a hormone disrupter (a chemical linked to effects such as birth defects, sexual abnormalities and reproductive failure).
The Co-op’s new code of practice developed with suppliers bans 24 pesticides in fresh and frozen produce (see box). It includes organochlorines (such as lindane), and some OPs (including chlorfenvinphos and demeton-S-methyl). The Co-op intends to review its list on a regular basis. ‘We continue to have discussions with the various groups including farmers, suppliers and environmentalists. Where other pesticides are identified with concerns, we will consider either putting them onto a banned list, or put them on a “requiring approval list” until we have further evidence to support either use, or ban them,’ maintains Kevin Barker of the Co-op.
Six of the pesticides that the Co-op has banned are still approved for use in the UK. So what was the response from the regulators to this unofficial ban? According to Kevin Barker: ‘The regulators have been very quiet and we have had very little or no feedback. We have raised a number of questions with the Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP) for which we are still awaiting a response. We will be seeking meetings with the UK regulator, the Pesticides Safety Directorate, and other officials to discuss our concerns and hopefully we will drive these issues forward.’
The pesticide industry has on the other hand made its concerns known, adopting such headlines as: ‘Co-op ban is plain wrong’. Dr Anne Buckenham, Director of the Crop Protection Association (CPA), said: ‘The Co-op has done a disservice to the whole UK food chain which in recent years has done so much to ensure responsible pesticide use.’2
The fact is that the CPA may have to get used to retailers imposing decisions on the pesticides suppliers. On 16 August another UK retailer, Marks and Spencer (M&S), said it was significantly expanding its list of prohibited pesticides to cover 79 chemicals. M&S will work with its suppliers to phase these out by January 2002. More details will be announced over the coming months.
Alternative options for farmers
How are farmers going to replace these banned pesticides? It is easy to talk about alternatives in theory, but difficult to deliver replacements in practice. The UK government is considering policies which could replace higher risk products with lower risk products where ever possible3. Kevin Barker explained how the Co-op is looking for safer alternatives: ‘We will work with experts worldwide to develop crop/pest data sheets that try to pull together as much information as possible regarding preventative measures, particularly focusing on biological and cultural control as a first step.’ The Co-op will provide further details on chemical pesticides so that the user can make more informed decisions. Kevin Barker admits that there is nevertheless an information gap: ‘There needs to be a concerted effort by the whole of the industry to make readily available information for those that need to know. Nobody is supplying this data in an understandable format to the growers, the people that count.’
- Ban world-wide the use in Co-op fresh and frozen produce of 24 pesticides for which there are alternatives.
- Restrict the use of a further list of over 30 pesticides, by insisting on more benign alternatives.
- Publish Co-op pesticide residue analysis on its website (www.co-op.co.uk).
- Support greater public access to information to provide a balanced and independent view on the use of pesticides and alternative methods.
- Lobby UK government to outlaw the use of the six pesticides on the Co-op’s banned list which are still approved in the UK.
- Lobby government to empower the ACP to encourage alternatives and to provide funding for research.
- Support the Organic Targets Campaign organised by Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming.
Environmental groups like Friends of the Earth have been quick to congratulate the Co-op on its stance. Retailers must support more research into safer alternatives, because of chronic under-funding in the past. The UK government will decide over the next few months whether to incorporate comparative assessment whereby less risky pest management is adopted. Pesticide regulators should move towards these measures by taking a more precautionary approach to pesticide safety and approval, as recommended by consumer and environmental public interest groups, and now increasingly by other stakeholders such as retailers.
Increase in EU residue levels
Latest pesticide residues results from the European Commission (EC) suggest that residue safety breaches are getting worse. The EC has analysed the testing carried out by 17 national monitoring programmes in the European Union countries, as well as Norway and Iceland, of melons, peppers, cauliflowers and wheat. While 64% of the samples contained no detectable residues, nearly one-third of the food consumed is contaminated. Of this, 4.3% exceeds the approved maximum residue level (MRL). Of particular concern were the levels of residues of endosulfan and methamidophos in peppers and melons.
The EU report highlights the low level of residue testing for fruit and vegetables in the UK. Compared with 17 other European countries, the UK ranks 11th for number of samples taken and the lowest per capita: only 0.231, compared with 3.44 samples per capita in Sweden. However, UK samples in the monitoring programme showed 2.9% of the residues analysed as above the MRL, whereas 30% of samples in the Netherlands were above the MRL, 24% in Finland and 10% in Spain.
The report analysed data from each member state in order to identify which residues occurred most frequently. The organophosphate (OP) chlorpyrifos figured in 12 countries including the UK. Another frequently detected pesticide in the UK was DDT, despite having been banned for use there since 1984.
There is increasing concern about multiple residues in food (see PN 51 p17). The results show 14% of the samples contained residues of more than one pesticide, and in 2.2% residues of four or more pesticides were detected. In Finland 29% of samples contain multiple residues, and in France, one sample contained eight or more pesticide residues.
Because most residue limits are set on the adult bodyweight, children can consume a disproportionate level of pesticide residues. At the residue levels found across Europe, a toddler would consume 181% of the health-based acceptable daily level of endosulfan in peppers, over six times (681%) of the acceptable level of methamidophos. As a precautionary measure, the EC has greatly lowered the MRL for methamidophos on peppers.
Both these pesticides are known to cause problems, particularly in developing countries. Many people died in Benin recently as a result of exposure to the pesticide endosulfan (see Pesticides News 51 p12), and methamidophos is an OP nerve poison that can adversely affect those applying the insecticide.
Criticism for five-year delay on European pesticide assessment
The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and Pesticides Action Network Europe (PAN Europe) have called on the European Union to reshape its chemicals and pesticides policy in order to ban substances of high concern, set strict deadlines and allow full public participation.
The European Commission has recently issued a report on the 1991 agricultural pesticides Authorisation Directive1 which recommends that the deadline for an EU-wide review of pesticides should be delayed for five years from 2003 to 2008. This report signals an admission from the Commission that the current system does not work and that it cannot enforce its deadlines.
The EEB and PAN have criticised the slow, ineffective chemicals and pesticides control process for its lack of clear criteria to identify unacceptable substances, such as those which are persistent or bioaccumulative, and for putting the burden of proof and an enormous workload on the regulators instead of on industry. The existing system encourages industry to submit incomplete data-sets or delay submission.
‘The current EU agriculture policy relies heavily on use of pesticides. Industry knows that this makes it unlikely that deadlines with sanctions will be seriously enforced,’ said Dr. Ute Meyer, PAN Europe. ‘Therefore it is necessary to have EU-wide pesticides legislation that establishes national pesticides use reduction programmes and minimises agriculture’s dependency on pesticides.’
The evaluation of the active ingredients of pesticides is performed behind closed doors. So far, public interest participation in the process has not been possible. Public pressure and transparent discussions are necessary to improve procedures and decision-making. The EEB and PAN Europe urge the Commission to open up the process now to full NGO participation.
‘A quick, effective chemicals and pesticides control is urgently needed; one which bans persistent or bioaccumulative or toxic substances, sets strict deadlines and allows full public participation.’ said Stefan Scheuer, EEB Chemicals Policy Coordinator. ‘These are the key issues which must be incorporated by the ongoing review of the chemicals and pesticides policy.’
The onus has shifted towards the European Parliament where a debate on the Commission’s White Paper for a future chemicals policy started on 27 August. It is now up to MEPs to make sure that requirements outlined by EEB and PAN are included in future legislation.
Understanding regulation in Europe
Over 200 delegates attended the regulatory conference Review for the Future – Getting the Best out of Directive 91/414 held in Brussels 5-6 July 2001. Many regulators attended from the European Commission, Member Sates, as well as industry and public interest NGOs.
Dr Ute Meyer, co-ordinator of PAN Europe, attended the meeting and argued for greater participation of public interest groups in the regulatory process and greater transparency. She suggested opening up Commission review meetings to public interest observers. Another public interest speaker was Beate Ketlitz, food policy adviser to the European Consumers Association (BEUC). She commented on the wide variations in pesticide monitoring programmes in EU states, and said that review of the maximum residue limits for organophosphate insecticides had to be a priority, especially for baby food and infant food.
Pesticide sales results for 2000
Denmark’s sales down in value – but not in volume
Pesticides sales by members of Dansk Plantevaern (the Danish crop protection association) amounted to DKr 63.2 million (€85.1 million) in 2000, a decline of 15% on the previous year. Sales of active ingredients in volume terms increased by 8.3% from 2,588.0 tonnes in 1999 to 2,802.7 t in 2000. This increase was due to a shift from more expensive products to cheaper ones.
Decrease in Finnish sales
Finnish pesticides sales fell by 4.5% to FMk 287 million (€48.3 million) in 2000, ending three years of consecutive value growth at the distributor level. Pesticide volume sales remained stable. A total of 3,161 tonnes of pesticide products containing 1,166 tonnes of active ingredient were sold in 2000, up by 0.7% and 0.6% respectively.
The volume of sales of biological pesticides almost trebled to 6.7 tonnes in 2000. Products were based on Bacillus thuringiensis, Pseudmonas chloroaphis, Streptomyces griseoviridis, Verticlum lecanii and Phlebiopsis gigantean.
Swedish market falls back
Sales of pesticides by members of the Swedish pesticide association (IVT) amounted to Skr 509 million (€51.5 million) in 2000, a decline of 15.7% on the previous year. Sales in 1999 increased mostly because of major aphid infestations compared with the previous year.
Belgium sales static
Pesticide sales by members of Phytofa, the Belgian agrochemical industry association, reached BFr 6,278 million (€155.6 million) in 2000, up by 6.4% compared with 1999. However, this does not reflect real growth of the market, as new members joined the association in 1999 and 2000, and boosted its representation to 90% of the national market.
Germany bans organotin Pesticides
Germany has banned fentin hydroxide the last remaining organotin compound that was being used as an agricultural pesticide. The chemical is a fungicide/bacteriacide that controls blight and blackleg. Germany’s federal biological institute, the BBA, withdrew the pesticide’s registration in August and banned its sale with immediate effect
Germany suspends dichlobenil
The German BBA has also suspended all registrations of herbicides containing dichlobenil, until 30 April 2002. The decision follows the discovery of high levels of the dichlobenil metabolite, dichlorbenzamid, in ground water in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. The registrations will be suspended to give the BBA time to look into the discovery.
EU excludes parathion
The European Commission has confirmed the exclusion of the organophosphate insecticide/acaracide, parathion, from Annex I of the EU agricultural pesticide registration directive (91/414). The decision follows an exclusion recommendation from the Standing Committee on Plant Health in March 2001. Registrations must be withdrawn by 9 January 2002 and existing stock may be used in no more than one further growing season. Parathion was part of the first round of the EU review of existing active ingredients and was defended by Bayer and Cheminova.
Review of pesticide taxation
Many countries in Western Europe have introduced voluntary programmes to encourage farmers to adopt environmentally more benign practices such as integrated pest management, but more policy action appears to be needed to meet environmental quality levels now demanded, according to UK agricultural economists. Input taxes could assist in meeting policy objectives.
The researchers took a farm systems approach to the evaluation and identification of the most appropriate specification of a tax instrument to reduce the environmental problems of agricultural pesticide usage. A case-study illustration is given for a specialist arable farm in the UK, combining an economic model of land use and production with a set of environmental indicators for pesticides. Linking these two components allows the identification of the potential trade-offs between achieving reductions in the environmental burdens to a number of ecological dimensions and farm income.
The results of the model indicate that either compromises will have to be made in environmental policy, or additional instruments will be required to counter-act the negative side-effects of some instruments.
Chlorophenol pollution in Finnish water
Chlorophenols have contaminated the drinking water and a local lake in the village of Järvelä in Southern Finland. The water intake for the village is sited about 800m from a sawmill and 3,400m from the lumberyard, where the fungicide ‘KY-5’ was used to inhibit the growth of bluestain fungus in timber from the 1940s until 1984. A total of 1,773 inhabitants responded to a survey in the contaminated area. Gastrointestinal and skin symptoms, in particular, were significantly more common in the contaminated area that in each control area. Nausea, general malaise, headache, anorexia, exceptional tiredness, and respiratory infections were significantly increased compared to the control areas. A dose response was also observed: higher consumption of drinking water and contaminated fish further significantly increased reported symptoms. In conclusion, long-term use of chlorophenol polluted household water and fish can cause symptoms already familiar in connection with occupational chlorophenol exposure.
Pesticides and semen quality
Researches from Denmark have studied the incidence of testicular function among greenhouse workers exposed to pesticides. Semen was examined for 122 men from 30 ornamental flower greenhouses measured according to World Health Organisation guidelines.
According to current exposure the median values for of sperm concentrations and the proportion of normal spermatozoa were 60% and 14% lower, respectively, in the high-level exposure groups than in the low-level group, and the values of the intermediate group fell in between. The results are compatible with the hypothesis that male fecundity may be at risk from exposure to pesticides in the manual handling of cultures in greenhouses.
A Abell, Erik Ernst and Jens Bonde, Semen quality and sexual hormones in greenhouse workers, Scandinavian Journal of Environment and Helath, 2000, Vol. 26, pp492-500.
European Environmental Bureau action on water
The EEB has launched a campaign Making the Water Framework Directive work, following a broad consultation among EEB’s Water Campaign Network. As a result the network developed ‘Ten actions for implementing a better European Water Policy’.
The 10 points are:
- Securing public participation and NGO involvement at the start – the need for EU guidance
- Substantial support for WFD implementation
- Extending sustainability rules to all water uses
- Integrated water management
- A robust definition of good ecological status
- New economic transparency for water use – laying the foundations to get the prices right
- Let the polluter pay and create positive incentives
- Protecting groundwater for future generations
- Cessation of all hazardous substances
The PAN Europe Newsletter is produced by Stephanie Williamson,
Contributions are welcome from PAN Europe network members.