Belgium is the largest European exporter of the plant protection product chlorpyrifos, a product that has been banned in the EU since 2020. That’s what Knack and Le Soir are reporting this week. Through detours, the substance could also be re-imported into our country via food. Sector Federation Belplant calls for a ban on the export of plant protection products banned in the EU to countries that are neither members of the OECD nor members of the Rotterdam Convention. However, the Federation advocates nuance in the discussion and emphasizes that resources, which are prohibited in our country, may be indispensable in some countries.
The plant protection product chlorpyrifos is used to protect fruits, vegetables and coal from soil insects. The European Commission had decided in 2020 to block the drug from the market after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reported an association with “unfavorable neurodevelopmental outcomes” in children.
However, exports were not curtailed and have continued from Belgium. Knack and Le Soir report this week on the basis of data requested from the Belgian government and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) by the Swiss ngo Public Eye and Unearthed, the Environmental Journalism project of Greenpeace UK.
These statistics show that only two member states declared export plans last year: Belgium (349 tonnes) and Denmark (30 tonnes). The Belgian exports are in the name of Arysta LifeScience Benelux, a subsidiary of the Indian multinational UPL. Also for this year, the Walloon company foresees in the declaration documents an export of 313 tons of chlorpyrifos products. The Company confirms to the Belgian newspapers that chlorpyrifos is produced at UPL’s site in Ougrée (province of Liège), but does not address whether the export actually took place as specified in the plans. “UPL complies with all Belgian, European and international laws and regulations,” says a spokesman for Arysta.
It is possible that the drug came to us again through food. Last year, for example, the Belgian Food Safety Agency (FAVV) issued a warning to other EU member states in 15 cases because the maximum residue limit for chlorpyrifos in food was exceeded. These included wild strawberries from Serbia and cocoa beans from Ecuador. These two countries buy chlorpyrifos from Belgium.
Greenpeace Belgium, through spokesman Joeri Thijs, reacts dismissively to the news. “Belgium appears to be the largest exporter of a dangerous pesticide that has been banned in Europe for three years, and especially to low-wage countries where the population is often extra vulnerable to the health impact of such toxic products. According to the letter of the law, this should not (yet) be a problem, it is simply immoral”.
Bond Beter Leefmilieu (BBL) considers it ” unethical that we continue to export resources here in Belgium that are prohibited in Europe because of excessive damage to biodiversity and health. As if biodiversity and public health stop at the European border.“The organization calls it” embarrassing ” that Belgium is the largest exporter of chlorpyrifos from the European Union, with more than 90 percent of the share. “However, the health risks, especially in the neurological development of fetuses and children, are very clear,” says Heleen De Smet of BBL. “By the way, it is not the only banned substance in which Belgium includes a shameful first place of export. In 2020, Belgium was also the largest exporter of neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are substances known for their very harmful impact on bees and other pollinators.”
Belplant, the Federation of the plant protection products industry, looks at the situation with more nuance. “With their expertise and because they operate on a global scale, the Belgian factories also produce resources that may not have an area of application in Europe, but elsewhere in the world. It may be that some substances are prohibited here, but necessary in other countries because there is no alternative available. For example, in some African countries, DDT is used to control malaria pests, while the drug is banned here. Here there is a different situation and the risk is assessed differently,” said spokesman Sigrid Maebe, who also points to the exceptional locust infestation in the Horn of Africa in 2020. “And take the example of plant protection products for bananas. They are not allowed here either, simply because they are not needed here.”
Despite this nuance of Belplant, environment ministers Zakia Khattabi (Ecolo) and her public health colleague Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit) are working on a draft royal decree banning the export of harmful plant protection products, according to Knack and Le Soir. Khattabi’s spokeswoman confirms to the newspapers that chlorpyrifos will still be added to the list of pesticides in the KB.
Belplant also advocates, whether chlorpyrifos or other plant protection products, to ban the export of plant protection products banned in the EU from Europe to “countries that are neither members of the OECD nor members of the Rotterdam Convention.”The latter regulates the import of chemicals internationally and gives the importing countries the right of self-determination to refuse import of substances that are prohibited in Europe, for example. The importing country must be informed in advance and give its consent. ” As a result, these countries know which plant protection products they import, what risks are associated with them and how to deal with them, ” says Maebe. “Encourage them to join this convention and provide these countries with the necessary resources and support to implement this convention correctly,” she concludes.