Is the industry exporting banned pesticides?
The media is full of stories about Swiss producers of plant protection products exporting pesticides that are banned in Switzerland. Weak regulations in importing countries would be deliberately exploited. However, this does not correspond to the facts. When exporting plant protection products, Swiss manufacturers adhere to strict international standards. In addition, there are certain products for which an approval in Switzerland does not make sense.
Thursday, May 25, 2023
In principle, the regulations of the target market are determining whether a product can be authorized and used. Accordingly, the authorization status in the destination country may not coincide with the one in the exporting country. However, this does not mean that the exports of such products are illegal. Here’s a simple example: Switzerland’s climate zone makes it impossible to cultivate bananas. Bananas are often exposed to different pests and diseases than those found in Switzerland. Accordingly, no plant protection products are registered and authorized for banana production in Switzerland. Active substances are always registered and authorized where they are relevant for the respective crops.
Plant protection products provide benefits in other countries, and their exports makes a lot of sense, as does their domestic production in Switzerland: Switzerland is an exporting country - for instance, more than 98 per cent of life sciences products are exported. This largest and fastest-growing sector of the Swiss economy is an important element of the prosperity created in Switzerland. And it also contributes to the security of supply of essential goods for the Swiss population in times of crisis. Companies produce here because they can export. The Swiss market alone would be far too small.
It is often claimed that companies take advantage of weaker regulations in developing countries to sell banned products. This accusation is easily refuted. For example, Syngenta only sells products authorized in at least one OECD country or having a full regulatory data package meeting the high OECD standards. Members ofCropLife International (the international association of the plant science industry), among others Bayer and Syngenta support the FAO and WHO International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management.
Strict approval procedures
Plant protection products are among the best-researched chemical products. A rigorous approval process based on comprehensive safety and efficacy data is required for product registrations. Research-based agribusiness companies adhere to regulatory requirements and safety standards. Not all products are useful in all agricultural markets.
Swiss manufacturers and exporters are often accused for exporting plant protection products banned in Switzerland “for environmental or health reasons.” Such accusations are based on referring to Annex 1 of the ChemPICO, the Swiss ordinance implementing the Rotterdam Convention. There can be several reasons why products were withdrawn from the Swiss market. The Federal Council has listed these in response to a parliamentary interpellation. The following excerpt is relevant (paragraph 2 from the Federal Council’s response):
2. There are several reasons which may lead to a withdrawal of an authorization. An authorization expires if no application for renewal is submitted. A product approval is withdrawn if it contains an active substance that must be re-evaluated in accordance with the provisions of Article 9 of the Plant Protection Ordinance (PSMV; SR 916.161) and for which no application for re-evaluation has been submitted. An authorization may also be revoked at the request of the authorization holder. Finally, an authorization is revoked if the review shows that the current requirements for the authorization are no longer met. In the latter case, the authorization holder shall be consulted. Based on the Federal Supreme Court decision of 12 February 2018 to grant the environmental protection organizations a right to appeal, these organizations are also given the opportunity to comment on these decrees.
The Rotterdam Convention requires countries that have ratified the Convention to notify exports of substances that are banned or severely restricted in their jurisdiction in order to protect human health and the environment. This obligation also applies to substances that were not affected by a regulatory decision based on a risk assessment, but were withdrawn for other reasons, with indications of a risk to humans or the environment. In such a case , the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) decides on the basis of a substance’s classification, which only indicates a specific hazard of a substance but does not take into account the risk due to exposure under realistic conditions of use (see also difference between risk and danger). In its response to the above-mentioned parliamentary interpellation, the Federal Council explains the process for including active substances in Annex 1 of the ChemPICO:
7. Annex 1 of the PIC Ordinance (ChemPICO; SR 814.82) (...) contains active ingredients that are not included in the list of active ingredients approved for use in plant protection products in accordance with Annex 1 of the Plant Protection Ordinance, and that meet the following criteria:
– The substances have not been approved on the basis of an assessment of the risks to human health and the environment;
– the substances have been classified in certain hazard categories with respect to dangers to human health or the environment; and
– it is assumed that an export of these substances may take place.
This means that an active substance may be included in Annex 1 of the ChemPICO for various reasons. The statement that all substances listed “have been banned in Switzerland due to risks to human health and the environment” is incorrect.
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The health of our crops cannot be taken for granted. On the contrary: in our mobile world, pests and plant diseases are spreading like wildfire. Climate change acts as an accelerant. When pests migrate and new plant diseases establish themselves in our latitudes, they can become a threat to native species. The International Plant Health Day on 12 May is a reminder of this. And the day shows: to ensure plant health in the future, research and innovation are needed above all.
In Switzerland, a growing number of pesticides are being banned by the authorities. At the same time, there are almost no new ones entering the market. The regulatory authorities are severely overstretched. Things cannot go on like this. Every product that disappears from the market increases the risk of pests developing resistance and of crops failing.