Produced in Europe, where their use is prohibited due to their very high toxicity, forty-one substances were sold abroad in 2018.
It is a trade that Europe does not boast about. Each year, the European Union (EU) authorizes, in the greatest opacity, its agrochemical champions to continue producing and exporting tonnes of pesticides, the use of which it prohibits within it because of their very high toxicity and the risks they pose to health and the environment.
A survey published Thursday, September 10 and to which Le Monde had access reveals the extent of this trade. In 2018, EU member countries approved the export of 81,615 tonnes of pesticides containing substances banned for sometimes more than ten years on their own soil, according to data first accessed by the association. Swiss Public Eye and the UK branch of Greenpeace. This is the equivalent of the quantity of pesticides sold in France that year. While the United Kingdom is the leading exporter by volume, France is the country which exports the largest number of different prohibited substances (eighteen).
A total of 41 banned pesticides were authorized for export from the EU in 2018, the only full year in which NGOs managed to collect all of the information often covered by “trade secrets”.
To establish this mapping, Public Eye and Greenpeace UK obtained several thousand “export notifications” : documents that companies must fill out to export substances on the list of dangerous chemicals in the European prior informed consent regulation. National (Ministry of the Environment) and European (European Chemicals Agency) regulatory authorities check these documents and forward them to the authorities in the destination countries. The quantities actually exported may sometimes differ from the volumes mentioned in these notifications.
Risk of fatal poisonings for farmers
The flagship product of these ultra toxic products “made in Europe”, the infamous paraquat. Marketed since 1962, this herbicide widely used in corn, soybean or cotton monocultures has been banned in the EU since 2007, due to the risk of fatal poisoning that it poses to farmers.
However, the Swiss firm Syngenta continues to produce very large quantities of it at its plant in Huddersfield, England. In 2018, the British authorities approved the export of more than 28,000 tonnes of a mixture based on paraquat. Preferred destinations: South America, Asia and Africa.
Far behind paraquat, we then find, with 15,000 tonnes, dichloropropene (1,3-D). In particular used as a nematicide in the cultivation of vegetables, classified as a probable carcinogen, it has also been banned since 2007. Marketed by the American firm Corteva, it is very widespread in Morocco in tomato fields.
With 10,000 tonnes, cyanamide, a growth regulator used in vines and fruit cultivation, completes the trio of bestsellers. Suspected of being carcinogenic and of damaging fertility, it was banned in the EU in 2008. The AlzChem company exports it from Germany to Peru, Chile or South Africa.
Boomerang effect for Europe
In total, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium and Spain represent more than 90% of exported volumes. As for importers, there are 85 countries. Three quarters are from developing or emerging countries.
Brazil, Ukraine, Morocco, Mexico and South Africa are among the top ten importers. But the first “customer” of this controversial trade is not a poor country. This is the United States. United States, Brazil, Ukraine: like a boomerang, the main importers are also those who export the most food to Europe. Orange juice, coffee, soya…, ultra-toxic pesticide residues can therefore end up on the tables of European consumers.
Ukraine, the “breadbasket” of Europe, imports in particular large quantities of atrazine (800 tonnes in 2018). Used mainly as a weedkiller in maize, atrazine has been banned in the EU since 2003 because of its carcinogenic potential, its ability to disrupt the endocrine system and its propensity to contaminate groundwater. The herbicide is still produced in France by Syngenta in its factory in Aigues-Vives, in the Gard.
With 7,663 tonnes of banned pesticides, France is the fifth exporter in volume but the first in terms of the diversity (eighteen) of banned substances.
This controversial business is far from drying up. As the EU withdraws pesticides from its market that are considered too dangerous for the health of its citizens or its environment, exports increase. In 2019, the European authorities gave the green light to the export of nine new banned pesticides, for a volume of 8,000 tonnes. France is the source of more than half of these new exports, with in particular more than 4,000 tonnes of mixtures based on picoxystrobin, the active substance of a fungicide produced by Corteva and banned since 2017 on suspicion of causing damage. irreversible on the genome.
“Efforts of green diplomacy “
The French legislator has however decided to put an end to these practices from 2022. And this despite the intense lobbying of the agrochemical giants to the highest peak of the State, as revealed by Le Monde in January. Only the Netherlands have shown their intention to emulate France and support a ban that would apply to all of Europe. The UN Special Rapporteur on Toxic Substances, Baskut Tuncak, calls on the EU to “show leadership to end this heinous practice, which is synonymous with discrimination and exploitation” .
Contacted by Le Monde, the European Commission points out that European legislation is already “stricter” than required by international conventions. She throws the blame on the importing countries: “A ban on EU exports will not automatically lead third countries to stop using these pesticides because they can import them from elsewhere. “ An argument also raised by industry to challenge the export ban to come into force in France in 2022.
From the same source, it is indicated that “convincing [these countries] not to use such pesticides will be more e ﬃ cient “ . A strat e gy part of ” green diplomacy efforts,” EU to “achieve more sustainable food systems worldwide. “