Fake pesticides threaten food safety

More than one in 20 pesticides sold in the EU could be fake, potentially endangering food safety and human health, writes Cath O'Driscoll in Chemistry & Industry, the magazine of the SCI.

These counterfeits range from sophisticated copies of patented products to low-quality fakes with little or no resemblance to the original. And it is a problem that is getting worse every year, according to the European Crop Protection Association 'Clearly there are risks when products that have not been properly studied or evaluated are being brought onto the market,' said Roger Doig, President of the ECPA.

Several recent incidences highlight the extent of the problem. In February this year, a counterfeit herbicide used in Italy was found to contain quantities of a potentially dangerous insecticide. In 2004, hundreds of hectares of wheat were wiped out in France, Italy and Spain because of a fake herbicide. And a 2002 study of supermarket produce in the UK found traces of eight illegal and potentially dangerous compounds.

'Generally, speaking, it would be wrong to blame farmers [for buying the products] as in many cases they firmly believe they are buying legitimate products. We've had cases where only after farmers have come to us with a complaint have we identified the product as counterfeit,' says Doig.

DEFRA is currently investigating two companies suspected of acting illegally. Jean Train, spokesperson for the Pesticides Safety Directorate, told C&I "We are in the process of gathering evidence with intention to prosecute". This will add to the list of successful action PSD have already taken against companies dealing in illegal pesticides. Twenty-four companies were issued with warnings in October at the British Crop Protection Conference in Glasgow for illegally promoting products.

But Peter Sanguinetti, CEO of the UK Crop Protection Association (CPA) is quick to point out that the UK is ahead of the game. Counterfeit products account for 3% of the UK market, compared to 5-7% in the EU. 'The CPA actively encourages enforcements to prevent illegal imports. We recommend that farmers buy pesticides from a reliable source. CPA members sign a code of practice,' he says.

The EU crop protection market is worth 7.5bn. Counterfeits cost the EU between 21m and 30m in lost taxes. The ECPA recently launched a pan-European Anti-Counterfeit Programme, in an effort to get governments and regulators to use their powers to enforce regulatory policies.

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Chemistry & Industry magazine from SCI delivers news and comment from the interface between science and business. As well as covering industry and science, it focuses on developments that will be of significant commercial interest in five- to ten-years time. Published twice-monthly and free to SCI Members, it also carries authoritative features and reviews. Opinion-formers worldwide respect Chemistry & Industry for its independent insight.

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