EU: Treatment of pesticide residues in organic products

16 Jul 2020

A new study by FiBL-OPTA has evaluated the four main approaches to treating pesticide residues in organic products that are currently applied in the European Union.

The main conclusion of the study is that the systems that certify the quality of organic operators must be complemented with “Ecological Control Points” that also cover aspects such as the prevention and treatment of waste. These must be audited by the control bodies during the annual ecological inspection. Another important recommendation is to create a multifactorial decision-making system for operators, control bodies and control authorities, allowing them to make a balanced decision based on science when pesticide residues are found. In addition, five instruments are proposed to strengthen decision-making.

Bernhard Speiser, a FiBL researcher leading the work, sees the study as an important first step in overcoming the current, unharmonized situation. “We involved stakeholders from organic processing, trade, associations and authorities in various workshops and a questionnaire. It became clear that for the complex issue of pesticide residues in organic products there are no simple solutions. You need to go into details to solve problems. Take, for example, an action level: in the evaluation of the approaches it was very clear that you would at least need a differentiated action level for different substances and types of processing. So I like the amount of knowledge-based instruments that are presented. ‘

Alex Beck, one of the OPTA advisers on the study, is happy with the practical results: “The debate on waste in recent years was very much a political debate between the focus of the final product in relation to the expectations of Consumers of green and residue-free products. The organic does not use chemical pesticides, but it cannot always prevent pollution in a polluted environment. Strengthening control points (OCCP) in operators’ quality management systems and oversight of control bodies in waste management and decision-making by operators would be a great improvement. Operators need good tools to make decisions when encountering waste and control bodies have to monitor their systems and evaluate their decisions. The set of instruments can be taken directly, for example, in the new Ecological Action Plan that will appear in the coming months ».

Stefan Hipp, president of OPTA, emphasizes the need for harmonization: “The situation acted with different approaches and decisions in several EU countries in the same batches, it is detrimental to achieve the growth of organic products. It creates uncertainties in the market and it can really affect organic farmers and businesses. With the Farm to Fork Strategy target of 25% green by 2030 on the table, we have to put our best knowledge on harmonizing waste management in the EU, otherwise farmers and companies might not go green due to high risks related to uncertainty when pesticide residues appear. And after all, ecological is the best way to get out of a polluted environment. ”

85% of organic products are “clean”

Organic farming results in high quality products. Only 15% of all organic products tested in the EU showed quantifiable residue levels, compared to 48% in conventional production. This 2018 finding on pesticide residues in food could be seen as promising. At the same time, it implies that for 15% of all eco products it is necessary to clarify the source of contamination and the process to treat it.

To start with: 9 of these 15% contain residues of substances that are officially allowed in organic farming and production (e.g. copper or spinosad) or are defined as pesticides in the respective pesticide legislation but are not used as such (e.g. , natural bromide or chlorate derived from chlorinated drinking water).

Of the remaining 6% of organic products that contain quantifiable pesticide residues, the eco sector cannot be held responsible: unfortunately, they represent a minority of 7 to 8% in the EU and 2-3% in the world. The use of chemical pesticides in artificial agriculture is still the “normal” way of growing food. This production system has polluted the entire environment for more than sixty years, from soils to humans. Agricultural chemicals can even be found in the ice at the North Pole, as long as it survives climate change… Therefore, it is not difficult to understand that a part of organic farming also has a small part of pollution.

Source: Bio Eco Actual