EU pesticide rules could provoke WTO challenge

Attempts by the EU Commission to revamp EU pesticide rules are likely to exacerbate the current food crisis, lead to disputes within the WTO and deprive Third world farmers of essential crop protection products, it has been claimed.

Under the commission’s plans, which are due to be voted on by EU farm ministers in Luxembourg next week, new “cut off” criteria will be introduced into the approvals process.

This will lead to the removal from the market of numerous pesticides whose active substances are now deemed hazardous, even though they have been proven safe in risk assessments under the current strict rules.

Consequences

An ADAS report last week suggested that this could lead to a 35-40% drop in wheat and potato yields. Prices would have to rise by over 50% for margins to stay the same, pushing up the cost of food for consumers (News, 13 June).

But the British Crop Production Council warns of further consequences.

“Many pesticides which would be banned under the planned cut-off criteria are registered as safe to use in other parts of the world,” said BCPC chairman Colin Ruscoe. “Imported crops would therefore be likely to have minute, but measurable residues of ‘banned’ pesticides.”

The EU Commission would be obliged under its own rules to block these imports, putting even greater pressure on domestic food supplies and leading to a further escalation of prices.

“This ban on imports of food treated with pesticides which are registered in other parts of the world would trigger serious WTO trade problems, especially between the US and EU,” Dr Ruscoe added.

Lobbying

The BCPC also warns that pesticide manufacturers would be prevented from exporting the banned products to the developing world. “Agricultural production in these regions would be deprived of critical crop protection technology.”

With just days to go before EU agriculture ministers hold their crucial vote, Crop Protection Association chief executive Dominic Dyer said that the whole industry was stepping up its lobbying effort.

EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson had been warned of the WTO consequences. And senior representatives from key food chain bodies were meeting junior DEFRA minister Jeff Rooker on Thursday (19 June) to emphasise the impact on food prices.

With EU heads of state also discussing the world food crisis at their summit in Brussels this week, the hope is that agriculture ministers may delay their decision and demand a full impact assessment first.