Fake pesticides threaten consumer health

Counterfeiting is a real problem…

European institutions, particularly on the European Parliament’s legislative level, constantly debate and seek to regulate the use of crop protection tools. The catalogue of available products is getting thinner every year, which has been criticised by farmers. However, making chemical compounds or products illegal does not automatically rid the market of their presence. In fact, the ill effects of prohibition apply to the agricultural sector to the same extent as other consumption areas. 

In 2018, the European Union Intellectual Property Office stated that €1.3 billion are lost every year in Europe due to fake pesticides. This translates to €299 million and 500 jobs lost per year in Germany, €240 million and 500 jobs each year lost in France, and €185 million and 270 jobs lost annually in Italy.

In 2018, EUROPOL revealed that some 360 tonnes of illegal or counterfeit pesticides were seized in Europe in a joint effort with the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). Counterfeit pesticides, now estimated to represent 14% of the European crop protection market, pose serious health risks to consumers. They are not subject to the rigorous safety assessments of food safety authorities. Adding to that, untested products can also lead to considerable harvest loss, resulting in less food security for European consumers.

Recent numbers make the 2018 statistics pale in comparison. In 2020, EUROPOL stated that 1,346 tonnes of counterfeits, illegal, and unregulated products had been taken off the market, or the equivalent of 458 Olympic-sized pools, with a total worth of €94 million of criminal profits seized. In the illegal trade raids, one can also notice an uptick in seizures of illegal pesticides, which relates to non-approved products. Year after year, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) records the presence of unapproved pesticides in European food. As a result, there have been calls upon member states to increase their inquiries into the imports of non approved pesticides into the European Union. In an effort to tackle this problem at its roots, we believe that a re-evaluation, conjointly with farmers associations, of the approval of these substances is a sensible solution. Suppose the European Union or member states outlaw a chemical substance due to health concerns, yet the ban results in an uptick in illegal trade with absolutely no safety assessment. In that case, a sensible compromise solution that takes into account the worries of producers while respecting the safety of consumers is in order.

Note on the illicit trade with fertilisers: In 2012, the Danish newspaper “Politiken” published an extensive report on the prevalence of illicit trade with fertilisers, which triggered a question to the European Commission about the extent of this problem. In a written answer, the Commissioner in charge replied in July of 2012 that Berlaymont was not aware of illegal trade in this area, and assured the necessary observation and enforcement mechanism were in motion to avoid it. Given the extent of fraudulent trade with organic food and the prevalent spread of fake pesticides, we believe that an investigation into the existence of illicit fertilisers in Europe is opportune.

Illicit trade is a significant challenge for societies in today’s globalised world. From cosmetics to medicines and agricultural products, illicit trade is putting millions of consumers around the globe at risk. The scope of the problem is transnational, and, therefore, the cost of misguided policies is very high. Our goal should be to create and sustain the conditions under which there would be no incentive to turn to the black market. This can be achieved by reducing tax burdens, enhancing branding and marketing freedom, introducing harsher penalties for fraudulent trading practices, and ensuring transparency across the EU.

Originally published here.

Greenpeace’s new pesticides report is misleading consumers

A new report by Unearthed — Greenpeace’s “investigative journalism” platform — claims that a large chunk of pesticides sold to farmers are “highly hazardous”. Their claims are highly misleading and outright wrong, and can have potentially life-threatening consequences.

Together with the NGO Public Eye, Unearthed collected “a huge dataset of $23.3bn agrochemical sales for sales (sic) of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs)”. The highly mediatised headline coming out of the report: 35% of the top pesticide sales are HHPs, and therefore dangerous to human health, animals, and the environment. 

Combined with Greenpeace’s effort to phase-out all use of pesticides altogether, no wonder that the conclusion from this report is “more bans”.

Thus, before we dive into the fundamental flaw of Greenpeace’s report, let’s establish the basic rules of acquiring scientific evidence: make an observation, ask a question, form a hypothesis or testable explanation, make a prediction based on the hypothesis, and test the prediction.

Greenpeace is an activist group that seeks to ban the use of all pesticides, since it wholeheartedly endorses agroecology, so it already violates these rules by starting with its assumption, not by establishing a hypothesis and testing the prediction.

Greenpeace claims that a third of top pesticide sales are highly hazardous. That is simply untrue.

The Unearthed report relies on a list of pesticides by the Pesticides Action Network (PAN), an association of NGOs. PAN is not a government agency, nor is it a research institute mandated or qualified to establish these lists. In fact, there is a list of criteria of Highly Hazardous Pesticides established by World Health Organization (WHO), but PAN applied its own spin, distorting the reality of official criteria.

For instance, its list includes glyphosate — a herbicide classified as safe for use by government food safety agencies — despite none of the WHO criteria applying. Using the classification of “highly hazardous” is completely arbitrary and thoroughly misleading.

Greenpeace’s aim is to get individual governments to outlaw the listed herbicides. Curiously, organic farming would be affected by this as well, since PAN’s list includes, Lambda-Cyhalothrin, which is part of the organic compound pyrethroid, which is allowed under the EU labels for organic agriculture (25 substances are allowed in the EU to be used in the treatment of organic crops).

Bans by individual governments or the European Union as a whole would have far-reaching consequences.

On one hand, it would set the precedent that any compound can be outlawed without prior scientific evidence that finds it to be a risk to human health or the environment. In fact, this could easily trigger (and has already) a witch-hunt on scientifically sound research, and distort reality for the sake of ideology. Furthermore, a ban could trouble the agricultural supply chain, and increase prices for consumers.

As food security is a vital factor in the well-being of developing countries, EU pressure for different food standards in Africa and Asia (through trade negotiations) would be devastating for affected rural communities.

The bottom line is this: consumers and producers need herbicides to protect against invasive species. Is it possible to rid one’s self of biochemicals without sacrificing major losses in crop yield? Yes, but technologies such as gene-editing – which offer promising alternatives – are highly restricted in Europe, as the Consumer Choice Center and the Genetic Literacy Project have revealed in their first gene-editing regulation index

If farmers are restricted from using these products, they will seek refuge in the black market. The trade in counterfeit and bootlegged pesticides is already a dangerous game played by farmers who are overburdened by regulation, and a real threat to consumer safety. The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute describes illicit pesticides as “a lucrative activity for organized crime and a concrete threat to security, development, health and the environment, and consequently require urgent response from the national and regional authorities, as well as the international community and the United Nations.”

Further bans would increase this problem. 

We should rather endorse safely produced and tested herbicides that guarantee food security and human health, rather than promote unscientific “research” at the back of consumer choice and the security of developing nations. 

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

Scroll to top