WHO IS TO BLAME?
This summer, while on vacation in France, I was struck by the many comments and articles, especially on social networks, about residues of banned pesticides in France, fraudulent, and the risks involved in importing products.
Later, after a little research on social networks, I realized that the problem exists in many European countries, where the fear of competition is provoking that anything is said to try to create, among consumers, a fear of what has not been produced in their own country. It is always easier to seek to justify its own problems by accusing the neighbor to be the responsible.
I want to make a (European) focus on the subject, for you to know how it works.
I have already mentioned ("11-Europe intoxicated by pesticides?" from March 2014), but I think it's good to speak again about it.
In Europe, although not everything is perfect, far from it, many things have been harmonized or are being harmonized. This is the case of the standards for pesticides.
The authorization for sale of a pesticide in the EU is a long and difficult process, which can be summarized as follows: any new pesticide can not be marketed without prior registration on Annex I of the Directive 91/414 / EEC.
Inclusion on the list shows that the pesticide meets all standards regarding the effectiveness of action, the harmlessness for crops, side effects in the short, medium and long-term on health, the environment, the bees, aquatic fauna and flora, birds or wild animals, risks of accumulation in the soil, risks to air and water, degradation characteristics in the plant, in the soil, acceptable residue levels, standards for handling, transportation, storage and use, and so on.
For this registration, the manufacturer must submit a huge dossier that will be thoroughly investigated by a specialized committee which will make the decision. The protocols are strict and any gap in the dossier is attested by a deferral or refusal.
The elaboration of such a dossier represents, for the manufacturer, at least 10 years of research and experimentation in the laboratory first, then in greenhouses, and finally in the fields, and a huge financial investment.
The European Union has the strictest safety and environment standards in the world, regarding pesticide registrations.
The inclusion in Annex I of Directive 91/414 / EEC is the legal authorization for the use of each pesticide within the European Union, under conditions to be defined at the national level.
No pesticide can be legally marketed without this prior registration.
The same system of approval also exists (or is being established) for organic pesticides, fertilizers, foliar nutrients and phytofortifiants, in short for anything that may come into direct or indirect contact with what will become a food.
But each manufacturer is free to seek the marketing of its molecules in each country of the Union. Concretely, registering on Annex I allows the marketing in the 28 countries of the Union. Yet one molecule may be authorized in Spain and Holland, but not in France or Romania, for example, because the manufacturer only has done the request in these countries. Cases of this type are numerous.
Similarly, each manufacturer is free to seek authorization of its products on certain crops and not others, in each country. Why? Simply because each authorization on each crop requires, in each country, another dossier, complementary to the European one, also long and expensive. In theory, the dossier submitted in a country for a pesticide and a crop, can be used for the approval request of the same pesticide, the same crop in another EU country. It makes things easier, but it still remains tedious and expensive. The manufacturer chooses approvals it will request, based on the potential market, country by country.
Thus, a manufacturer may request approval of a product on olive in Spain or Italy, where the surfaces of the crop are very important, but not in France, where production is too low to return the request. Similarly, a product may be allowed, for example on olive in Spain but not in France, while being approved on potato in France but not in Spain.
It's really complex, sometimes absurd, often difficult to accept for farmers, but it is reality.
And that's where it should be clarified.
Among the fraudulent pesticides, since it is the starting point of this article, we must distinguish two cases:
- Fraudulent pesticide imports from other EU countries. This case, by far the most common, is a legal offense, but does not represent, in any case, a risk to the environment or health. These risks were assessed before, during consideration of the dossier of registration on the Annex I of Directive 91/414 / EEC. It's still illegal, but the risk is low.
- Fraudulent pesticide imports from non-EU countries. These cases exist, and are more and more numerous. This is usually due to lower costs, or it is a way to find molecules that have been banned in the EU during the process of compliance with Directive 91/414 / EEC, or yet it is a way to get a new molecule, available in some countries but not yet in the Union. It's a diferent situation, as many old molecules are still permitted and used in some countries. Similarly, recent molecules may have been rejected by the European Union, or not completing the evaluation process. In this case, it is a legal offense, and a hazard to the environment, the user and the consumer. The risk is serious. In some cases, frauds involve qualified products but manufactured outside Europe, usually in China, uncontrolled, sometimes dangerous. See about that point, the video on the following link, in french: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_2JkAJC5OM&feature=youtu.be
So when I see or hear comments of my French colleagues growers, in order to reduce a competition they consider unfair, imply or state clearly that food produced in Spain are dangerous because fraudulently treated with banned substances, I have to protest.
This is false, really false.
They may have been treated with products not authorized in France, it's true. But they are completely legal products in Spain, ie in Europe, including France, although their utilization is not allowed for the reasons I explained above. It is difficult to accept in a single market, of course, because it leaves the door open to interpretation and misunderstanding. In addition, it creates unnecessary differences in competitiveness.
I can also return the comment. There are many foods, imported by Spain from France, arriving in Spain with residues of unauthorized products. Whose use is not permitted in Spain, but authorized in the Union, and whose residues are legal. So what?
French producers tend to forget they export to Spain almost as much food which is imported.
Have you ever heard of complaints and protests against French products, from Spain? However, are they always perfect? Of course not, but who cares?
Approvals at the national level only respond to purely commercial criteria defined by the manufacturers.
All pesticide safety criteria are identical in all countries of the European Union.
The problems of internal competition in the EU can not be solved by systematic denigration policies, such as those launched in recent months in France against Spanish products in particular.
They exist, it is clear. But these are competition problems mainly due to huge differences in labor costs.
And on this point, France has taken a step ahead, with costs that are bringing about the disappearance of many crops whose main charge is precisely the workforce. These crops are relocated to countries where labor is much cheaper. The examples are numerous, relocations within the EU, such as Spain, Poland and Romania, and to nearby non-Community countries, such as Morocco, Turkey and Ukraine.
Just a small example: the hourly cost of a strawberry picker in Huelva (south of Spain) is about € 6.50, while it is over 12 € in France, almost double.
It is normal in these circumstances, that competition plays for the Spanish strawberry, if we do not take into account issues such as eating quality. And it is normal that the French strawberry growers protest. And it is also normal that in France, strawberry production is in trouble, more than in Spain.
But this is not suficient reason to denigrate the Spanish production. The problems of 90s are solved, and any residues of pesticides that may be on the fruits are legal throughout the European Union, in the same way that French residues on strawberries are legal in France, Spain, and in any other EU country. Rare cases of illegal residues are severely punished, and take away any desire to reviewers of recurrence.
The European Union has so far refused to interfere in the social problems at the national level.
This is unfortunate because the damage caused by these differences sometimes overweening, will be very difficult to repair in the future.
When an entire economic sector disappears, the skills and the people trained and prepared to deal with it, go away with it.Backtracking becomes almost impossible.