Export of cereals: imbroglio around the ban on phosphine, a treatment demanded by importing countries

    A grain silo from the French group Soufflet in the port of La Rochelle (Charente-Maritime), March 13, 2018. The French company ships grain abroad, particularly to Africa.

    The information may be false, but it triggered a deluge of criticism. Since the publication on 7 April of an article by Opinion claiming that she had uttered a “unilateral ban” of a pesticide used to treat grain shipments intended for export, the National Agency for Health, Food, Environment and Labor Safety (ANSES) is at the heart of an unprecedented turmoil.

    Numerous press articles and talk shows were followed by no less than four questions to the government during the Tuesday, April 11 session in the National Assembly. Nicolas Forissier (Les Républicains, Indre), Grégoire de Fournas (National Rally, Gironde), Félicie Gérard (Horizon, Nord) and Laurence Heydel Grillere (Renaissance, Ardèche) castigated the supposed excessive severity of ANSES, likely, according to them, to make it impossible to export French wheat to several African countries. Since 2015, it is the agency that is responsible for issuing (or not) marketing authorizations for pesticides, biocides and veterinary drugs. This prerogative was previously that of the Ministry of Agriculture.

    If the concerns of French cereal exporters seem very real, the questioning of the agency is questionable. Used in fumigation in the holds of boats, the insecticide in question, phosphine (a gas given off by aluminum phosphide tablets), has not been the subject of a “unilateral ban” In France. According to ANSES, only a specific use – when these tablets are placed in direct contact with the grain – is not authorized. But this fact is not a decision “unilateral” from the agency: it is the firm applying for the renewal of the authorization of the substance – the agrochemical company UPL Holdings Coöperatief UA – which did not submit an application for this specific use.

    Exceeding the limits set by Europe

    “We do not have the legal possibility to issue a marketing authorization for a specific use if we do not have the data provided by the applicant company (requesting authorization for his product) to support this use., they say to ANSES. In this case, the excessive risks of such use of aluminum phosphide, through direct contact, were not anticipated by ANSES but by the applicant company itself.

    In an exchange of letters between UPL Holdings Coöperatief UA and ANSES, dated February 21, 2023 and that The world was able to consult, the firm announced to the regulatory agency its intention to request, in September, a “permission change” in order to allow the use of its product in direct contact with cargoes. “It appears that the residue levels observed in the new available studies (when the application to the grains is by contact rather than non-contact) are equal to or higher than the current maximum residue limit (MRL) of the European Union », writes the company to ANSES. Also UPL Holdings Coöperatief UA she explains that she is going to ask the European level for an increase in the MRL, so that her product can be used by contact. The pesticide producer did not respond to requests from the World.

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