Denmark plans import ban on pesticide residues – ­legal expert calls it mission impossible

Danish minister for food Mogens Jensen (Social democrat) has instructed the national food administration to prepare a total Danish ban on food treated with the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Peter Pagh, professor in environmental law at Copenhagen University calls it a blow in the air, as EU-countries cannot ban imports in their own.

Henrik Dammand Nielsen, head of section for chemistry and food quality at Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (Fødevarestyrelsen) says Denmark has asked the Commissions for its plans to ban an EU-wide use of chlorpyrifos, and expects a reply from Brussels within 5-6 weeks.

”If we haven’t received a reaction we will go forward with preparing a national import ban,” he explains.

These preparations come parallel to the ongoing process of whether to prolong a present EU-approval of the pesticide or not. An EU-wide decision is expected in December at the latest. The use of chlorpyrifos is banned in several member states but treated food reaches consumers through imports from countries where the use is allowed.

The Danish wish to act fast was triggered by a recent statement from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) minister Jensen has told Danish Radio.

Critics got particular attention

EFSA experts declared 2 August that there is no discernible safe human dosage-level for chlorpyrifos and related chlorpyrifos-methyl. Both pesticides ”may damage unborn child”, EFSA wrote in an unprecedented statement.

As described on this website and in several European media outlets in June, the present approval of chlorpyrifos is based on studies by the producer Dow Chemicals (since 1 June, Cortega Agriscience). These studies were last year found to be misleading by environmental experts Axel Mie, Philippe Grandjean and Christina Rudén. In its recent statement EFSA says it gave particular attention to the re-evaluation of the previous studies by the three critical scientists.

The import ban announced by the Danish food administration will be based on an EU-regulation on food safety from 2002. This regulation opens up for temporary bans ”where it is evident that food or feed originating in the Community or imported from a third country is likely to constitute a serious risk to human health”.

But, stresses professor in environmental law at Copenhagen University Peter Pagh, such a ban can only be upheld temporarily as the Commission and other member states will have to act on in within 10 working days:

Battle for a lost cause?

”I would say it’s pretty certain that this regulation cannot be used to avoid the complex rules on approval of pesticides, if the pesticide has been approved for use in another member state and the rules for accepted residues have been respected.”

” I find it surprising if the legal advisers to the government are not aware of this – but of course it’s also possible the government is more interested in political goodwill by waging a battle it cannot win, like the lost case of banning bear cans years ago,” Peter Pagh says.

EU-law also gives the possibility to uphold or introduce stricter national rules to protect the environment or to safeguard working conditions. But this environmental clause or guarantee in the Treaty must be motivated by specific conditions in the country asking for it. It is therefore not regarded relevant in the case of chlorpyrifos.

”Chlorpyrifos is harmful to all, not only to Danes. We won’t go down that road,” says Henrik Dammand Nielsen at the food administration.

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