Backlash erupts over European pesticide regulations

When it comes to climate change and human rights, Europeans sometimes view themselves as moral authorities for the world.

They now appear to be taking a similar approach to pesticides as the European Union tries to impose its rules on the rest of the globe, and at least 16 agricultural exporting countries are voicing complaints.

Canada, the U.S., Brazil, Australia and 12 other nations made their case in a letter to the World Trade Organization.

“The EU has begun to implement measures that effectively prohibit the use of a number of substances that are required for safe and sustainable agricultural production,” the nations said in the document, sent to the WTO in early July.

“It appears that the EU is unilaterally attempting to impose its own domestic regulatory approach onto its trading partners. As a result, the EU is effectively prohibiting the use of critical tools to manage pests and resistance, while damaging the livelihood of farmers beyond its borders.”

The letter was submitted to the WTO Council for Trade in Goods.

Its title said Europe is imposing non-tariff trading barriers on agricultural goods.

The issue isn’t new. Numerous countries have expressed frustrations in the past over Europe’s pesticide policies.

Most nations follow a risk-based approach for pesticides, in which scientists look at realistic exposure levels and determine if those levels could be harmful to humans.

Europe has essentially adopted a hazard-based method, where regulators focus on the chemical’s potential to do harm, regardless of real world exposure.

The EU philosophy is hurting farmers in a number of countries, the letter noted.

“These measures (are) already impacting global agricultural production and trade in key products such as bananas, grapes, cereals and tree nuts. This disruption threatens to escalate significantly in the coming years if the EU does not change its current approach.”

This sort of letter is not unusual at the WTO. Canada has submitted a number of documents protesting Europe’s position on pesticides.

But the tone this time is different, said Pierre Petelle, president and chief executive officer of CropLife Canada.

“The language is anything but typical. It’s very direct,” said Petelle from his office in Ottawa. “To me, it’s expressing a growing frustration about this issue.”

The Europeans are particularly focused on “endocrine disruptors,” or chemicals that may affect hormone production.

Their position on endocrine disruptors could restrict how Canadian farmers use a number of crop protection products, including fungicides.

Petelle said propiconazoles, used to treat rust and leaf diseases for cereal crops and blackleg in canola, would be at risk.

It’s one thing for the EU to regulate its farmers, but it’s also attempting to change the rules for maximum residue levels (MRLs) on imported ag commodities, Petelle said.

That goes against WTO rules.

“The import tolerance process for setting for MRLs are required to be risk-based,” he said.

If the EU moves away from established MRLs, it could have major implications for countries that export cereals, oilseeds, vegetables and other crops to Europe.

For instance, the MRL for glyphosate may now be 10 parts per million (p.p.m.) on a certain crop.

Europe could adopt a default MRL, for all pesticides, of 0.01 p.p.m.

“To go from 10 (p.p.m.) to 0.01, you’re going down a thousand-fold,” Petelle said.

In the letter, the 16 countries pressed Europe on MRLs.

“We ask the EU … to confirm that import tolerances will continue to be established on the basis of internationally accepted approaches … and to cease to implement those measures that unnecessarily and inappropriately restrict international trade.”

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