Europe still has an MRL for diquat, U.S. a concern

In May 2018, the European Commission banned the use of diquat.

Diquat is the active ingredient in Reglone, a popular desiccant for pulse growers in Western Canada and a useful tool for European farmers, before the prohibition.

The EU ban wasn’t immediate. Diquat products had to be off the market by July 31, 2019, and European farmers had until Feb 4, of this year, to use up their stockpiles.

Sometimes when a crop protection product is banned, the maximum residue limit, or MRL, for the chemical is eliminated. If a product is outlawed, why have a residue limit for that product?

That’s not the case in Europe for diquat, which is good news for Canadian farmers and especially pulse growers.

“(The) MRLs are still in place. We have no indication that the MRLs are going to be revoked,” said Greg Bartley, director of crop protection and crop quality with Pulse Canada.

“Our understanding is this decision outlines the ban for domestic use in the EU.”

Reglone is commonly used in Western Canada, as many pulse growers rely on the desiccant to dry down the crop before harvest.

And Canada does ship a decent amount of pulses to Europe.

In 2019, total pulse exports to EU nations were 269,000 tonnes, based on Global Trade Tracker data. Of that, the largest component was dry beans:

  • Dry beans, 135,874 tonnes
  • Lentils, 95,522 tonnes
  • Chickpeas, 21,320
  • Peas, 14,643

“We do consider the EU one of our major markets. Especially for the dry bean industry,” Bartley said.

The European MRL for diquat is 0.2 parts per million for dry beans, 0.2 ppm for lentils and 0.3 ppm for peas, according to the EU Pesticide Database.

That’s lower than the Canadian MRL for diquat, of 0.9 ppm, but the EU level is significantly higher than the U.S. standard of 0.05 ppm.

Europe is expected to maintain its MRLs for diquat, because of the reasoning behind its ban. The European 2018 Final Renewal Report on diquat says the health risk is connected to exposure.

“The estimated operator, bystander and resident exposure… exceed the (limits) even when the use of PPE (personal protective equipment) is considered,” the report says.

In other words, EU officials aren’t worried about diquat residues in crops and food.

“It’s more related to the application or exposure,” Bartley said.

For now, Canada’s pulse sector is more worried about the United States and its MRL for diquat, which is an order of magnitude lower than the Canadian standard. A farmer could get caught in testing if his treated crop was shipped by container or rail, without being mixed into a major blended shipment as happens with major commercial shipments.

“Any crop being exported to the (U.S.), especially in a small lot shipment … has the potential to exceed that MRL,” Bartley said in the spring.

That’s why it’s critical for growers to speak with the buyer. If that buyer is eyeing U.S. sales, he may not want the grower to be using a product like diquat. The same goes for a number of other products.

“That’s our greatest concern right now, the low MRL to the U.S.,” Bartley said.

“We’re hopeful that MRL will be raised, in line with Canada, in the near future.”

Longer term, a bigger concern for pulse growers and all Canadian farmers, may be Europe’s stance on pesticides. In May, the European Commission set a target of reducing pesticide use by 50 percent and increasing organic farming to 25 percent of production by 2030.

Those are dramatic goals and they could have a significant impact on countries that export agricultural products to the EU.

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