Bananas are first front in EU bid for greener farm standards – POLITICO

The EU’s top fruit suppliers are turning to bananas as Brussels’ ambitions to make agriculture greener are put to their first major test.

of the EU Green trading and Farm to Fork The strategies mark a turning point as they address the need to make food production systems more sustainable, including by eliminating the most toxic agrochemicals. But as Brussels rolls out the plan, agricultural powerhouses like France and Spain are adamant that leaning towards greener farming will not leave their producers overwhelmed by cheaper foods grown. with looser standards for imports from outside the bloc.

As it leads the EU Council this spring, Paris is looking to leverage its ability to shape the bloc’s policy agenda to deliver a new proposal: reflective provisions. French President Emmanuel Macron has described the idea as a “conventional” way of using trade policy so that “our own constraints are reflected back to us by those with whom we deal”. .”

The French line is that, as an agricultural trading power, the EU has the right to defend sustainable agriculture internationally and to adapt its global food business policy. While initially cautious about promoting the clone clause, the European Commission has warmed to the concept, and is now pondering the best way forward.

“We are uniquely positioned to lead the global transition to sustainable food systems,” said EU Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told EU agriculture ministers last month. European policies “must help raise sustainability standards around the world” and “carefully avoid outsourcing to third countries harmful activities that we ourselves have banned”, she said. .

Harmful pesticide use is an important front in the battle for unsurpassed sustainability in farming and farming. international playground for EU farmers. And now the block’s ban on a widely used fungicide called mancozebcrucial for its top banana suppliers, is emerging as the first concrete test of Brussels’ willingness to strengthen global agricultural trade.

Praised by environmental groups, the ban came after the EU’s food safety watchdog EFSA in late 2020. speak That mancozeb, which has been used for decades on everything from beets to onions to potatoes, is toxic to human health and the environment. “We cannot accept that pesticides harmful to our health are used in the EU,” Kyriakides said. speak at that time.

But the EU’s ban on mancozeb is fueling attacks outside of the bloc, as banana farmers in Latin America fear that the EU may next clamp down on import rules for fruit grown with bananas. mancozeb, sprayed their vast plantations against Black Sigatoka, a fungal disease that thrives in tropical climates and ravages their banana harvest.

More than 70 percent EU banana supply comes from Latin American countries, led by Ecuador, Colombia and Costa Rica. At a time when EU leaders are talking loudly about taking the lead towards greener and ecological farming models, the decision on mancozeb risks bringing to Brussels’ attention as it chooses between maintaining perpetuating its greener food rhetoric and destabilizing its reliable supply of bananas – irking leading trading partners in the process.

Pressure mirror

As a result of the ban, the EFSA is looking into the risks to consumers from mancozeb residues in imported foods. Based on this review, the European Commission will decide whether to tighten the legal limits on permissible mancozeb residues in imported product; those tolerances are called Maximum residue level (MRL). The decision, expected in April, comes as Paris tweaks its reflective clause proposal and urge Brussels to “better take into account global environmental challenges when determining the MRL.”

Documents obtained by POLITICO show that fruit giants such as Del Monte, Chiquita and Dole Foods, which have Latin American roots, are concerned that this MRL clampdown could jeopardize their position as suppliers. the EU’s top preferred fruit level.

In a letter to EU officials in January, Alber & Geiger, the Brussels lobbyist, on behalf of three manufacturing companies, argued that Latin American plantations were “dependent” on mancozeb for supply. supplying most of the EU’s demand for bananas. The letter argued that the existing rules would not change because “the use of mancozeb on bananas exposes consumers to negligible exposure.”

But anti-pesticide groups in the EU disagree, warning that there is currently no scientific method to distinguish traces of mancozeb from traces of similar chemicals.

“Mancozeb is a complete endocrine disrupting pesticide, which is classified as reproductively toxic, posing a high risk to birds and mammals… This implies that from a reproductive standpoint… Scientifically, no level of safety can be proven,” said Salomé Roynel from Pesticides Action EU Network.

“In the context of the Farm to Fork Strategy, the EU is committed to ending double standards; Roynel said. “This is a typical case of a very toxic substance whose trading partners are trying to maintain a double standard in secrecy.”

Europe’s top banana suppliers are balking at the prospect of losing the fungicides they have trusted for decades. “Other products are not as effective as mancozeb. This will affect the quantity and quality of Latin American bananas,” said Juan José Pons, coordinator of the Ecuador Banana Cluster, an industry association that includes multinationals such as Chiquita, Fyffes, Del Monte and Dole among its members and is represented in Brussels by Atrevia, a corridor that cooperates with Alber & Geiger on maintaining mancozeb MRLs at current levels.

Pons says that Cluster farmers’ use of mancozeb is in compliance with safety regulations, and that their fruit, nearly 30% of which is shipped to the EU, “must be certified in compliance with safety standards.” and sustainability of the EU.”

But advocates of greener farming argue that, rather than yield to lobbying pressure from large multinationals, Brussels should see this as an early opportunity to turn the tables on how a in those most transactions Farmed fruit.

Alistair Smith, international coordinator at fair trade group Banana Link, says the fact that mancozeb is “extremely harmful” to both workers and the environment should give Brussels enough reason to limit its use. it and throw the weight of the block behind greener farming and more – ecological ways to grow fruit trees.

“The industry is struggling because it hasn’t prepared itself…below the current tight margin, to invest in. [less harmful] He said, warning that global banana production is under increasing pressure due to climate change and new pests and diseases, and that ” tinkering” with small portions of current farming means “sooner or later” late, that system becomes completely unsustainable.”

“No one has a recipe for agro-ecological production on a large plantation scale,” says Smith, but several multinationals are “prepared to try,” Smith said, citing the example of Compagnie Fruitière. (CF) of France, after a 2009 pesticide scandal, increasing pressure on its agro-ecology projects, including farms in Latin America. CF did not respond to several requests for comment.

But such a change is not within reach of all banana farmers, most of whom sell their fruit to large supermarkets at low prices. Pons said that if the EU, which is pushing its mirror clauses agenda, revises import rules for bananas, it should also be ready to deal with the failure of price chain disruptions. value of one of the cheapest and most widely available fruits in the block.

Over the past decade, the price of Latin American bananas has stagnation at less than €1 per kilogram, even as Pons says retailers demand no less than “pictured fruit”.

“To use an American saying: Put your money where your mouth is. There is a price to be paid for this. Due to reduced productivity, production costs will increase, ”Pons said, noting that, while the Cluster supports the EU’s green food agenda, the potential tightening of import standards does not add up to the price at which EU supermarkets buy their bananas.

Smith agrees, saying that consumer calls to make agriculture more sustainable are “not going away” and that it is time for the EU to “facilitate alternatives and transition” to greener production methods, “in line with the goals of the Green Agreement”. ”

“Those big manufacturers need a way out,” he said. “And the only way out is to share the responsibility” along the banana supply chain. “In other words, Big Retail needs to invest with the companies that provide them … in finding alternatives and looking at how scale agro-ecological production can be – that’s what needs to happen.”

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify the role of the EFSA in establishing the MRL.

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