The industry presses so that the EU does not prohibit the most used pesticide in Spain

The death sentence of a pesticide to disappear from the market in the European Union is not a path of roses. It takes a lot of scientific evidence that a certain chemical is harmful to people, animals or the environment. The meetings of the members of the European institutions to discuss its prohibition or its continuity are multiple and of very technical content, quotes where the pressures exerted by the industry and the activist organizations also come into play.

On December 5 and 6, the Committee of Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (ScoPAFF) of the European Commission will discuss whether they prohibit chlorpyrifos (and their cousin, methyl chlorpyrifos). The majority of the numerous scientists consulted and several investigations submitted in the last two years to the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) argue that this pesticide negatively influences the evolution of the brain and nervous system, originating in cases already studied autism, attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity, obesity or loss of points in the intellectual quotient of those affected. Chlorpyrifos also persists persistently in aquatic environments.

In August, EFSA published a double communiqué that concluded that the pesticides chlorpyrifos and methyl chlorpyrifos do not meet “with the applicable criteria to protect human health established in European Union legislation” and recomendaba that does not give upovarian your authorization beyond January 31, 2020, date your license expires. Its use is already prohibited in eight EU member states, Germany, Ireland, Finland or Sweden among them. In France its use is only allowed in spinach. In Spain, chlorpyrifos is the most used pesticide, especially in citrus cultivation.

Chlorpyrifos manufacturers have not been cross-handed in recent weeks. Several documents sent to the Commission and obtained by ‘Le Monde’ show that the industry is exercising a tenacious ‘lobby’ work so that this chemist does not disappear from European fields.

The pressure is led by Corteva Agrisciences, a multinational created from the merger between Dow, inventor of the pesticide, and DuPont last June. "The legislation should not be drafted by the pressures of the activists, but the regulatory system must be based on solid evidence," representatives of Corteva wrote to the Commission, according to an internal community report.

In response to journalists, Corteva points out that he “strongly disagrees with the conclusions of EFSA” and with “the proposals of the European Commission not to renew” the license to use chlorpyrifos. The multinational underlines that this pesticide is authorized in 80 countries, including 18 in the EU, and is legally applied to more than 100 crops.

The drafts of the Commission that develop the veto of the chlorpyrifos only need the signature of the Health and Safety Commissioner

For its part, the law firm Fieldfischer wrote to EFSA a letter at the end of August in which it showed the "legitimate surprise" of its client, the Portuguese producer Ascenza, for the speed of the decision taken. "This way of proceeding is very unusual, if not irregular," said the lawyers. They added that the EFSA communiqués "irreparably affected the reputation of the substances, which damaged the commercial interests" of their client. Suggest legal actions for the alleged irregularity of the procedure so quickly if the use of the pesticide is finally restricted or prohibited. Commission sources are not surprised by a possible lawsuit filed by the industry. "For these cases, the Court of Justice of the European Union is at your disposal," they comment.

In the same vein, EPPA SA, a company officially registered in Brussels and acting in favor of interest groups in the agrochemical industry, wrote a letter to the Commission protesting the fact that it had succumbed to the wishes of the activists and has "overreacted to the strong pressures exerted by NGOs and the media."

But despite the understandable work of pressure from the industry, last June sources from the Commission confirmed to the media participating in this investigation that chlorpyrifos would be banned in 2020. In recent days we have had access to internal documents of the World Organization of Commerce, signed on October 3, in which the EU notified all importing countries of chlorpyrifos and methyl chlorpyrifos that these chemicals "do not meet the approval criteria" for the renewal of the use license in their member countries. "The non-renewal of the rejection is based on a scientific evaluation carried out (…) by experts from the Member States of the European Union," reads the notification.

EU notification to the WTO on chlorpyrifos.

The media of this investigation have had access to the internal drafts that the Commission is preparing on chlorpyrifos and methyl chlorpyrifos. They include deletions, strikethroughs and various editions. But they always conclude with the following sentence: "According to Law (EC) number 1107/2009, the authorization to use chlorpyrifos (or methyl chlorpyrifos) should not be renewed." To the drafts that develop the veto of these pesticides only them lack the signature the commissioner of Health and Food Safety, the Lithuanian Vytenis Andriukaitis.

Even so, while the prohibition of chlorpyrifos seems almost assured, the veto to methyl chlorpyrifos is about to be debated in the coming days. According to Commission sources, Germany, Denmark, France and Sweden are clearly inclined not to renew the license to use, but the "citrus countries" of southern Europe (Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal) stand against. Oranges, tangerines, lemons and grapefruits are the fruits where more chlorpyrifos residues were found in a study conducted in 2016 by the oenegé PAN Europe with official EU data.

Evidence of its dangers

Fruit baskets and your dinner plate have residues of that pesticide. Your urine expels them, just as 90% of children tested by scientists like Vicent Yusà, head of Public Health Laboratories of the Generalitat Valenciana. Yusà told the journalists a live voice and reads in his articles.

Interviewed Yusà for journalistic research a few months ago, he said: “Most likely, the EU will ban chlorpyrifos in January 2020 because, compared to other insecticides, it is more dangerous for human health and has a greater negative impact on the environment than others . It is very powerful because it not only eliminates agricultural pests but also other animals and affects the environment. We shouldn't play Russian roulette with the chlorpyrifos anymore"

Studies on the harmful influence of chlorpyrifos on brain development have been published since the beginning of the century. But Spain, the rapporteur country on this pesticide in the EFSA, did not discuss its possible neurotoxicity until 2017.

Many scientists are clear that the pressure set of the industry does not benefit consumers precisely. “Producers play a role that is obvious and that is well known in the scientific community. The current EU assessment of chlorpyrifos is based largely in hundreds of studies funded by Dow Chemical”Points Axel honey, Professor of the Department of Clinical Science and Education of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Mie's scientific works are continually referred to by the documentation handled by EFSA and the Commission. "One of the fundamental conclusions (of our research) is that chlorpyrifos affects brain development, no matter how small the dose," says Mie.

Since 2004, a group of researchers from Columbia University has published scientific articles in which it demonstrates how the presence of chlorpyrifos affects the development of the fetus and the physical and mental development of children in their first years of life. Organophosphorus pesticides such as chlorpyrifos affect neuronal transmission, are endocrine disruptors, alter the normal development of thyroid hormones or cause reproductive problems, among other diseases. As a consequence, American researchers, through multiple tests performed on children, have determined that organophosphorus pesticides they cause the loss of between 1.4 and 5.6 points in the IQ or great risks of diseases such as obesity when your mother has been very exposed.

By his side, Barbara Demeniex, Professor of Biology at the Endocrine Regulations Laboratory of the National Center for Scientific Research in France, told reporters the following: "Scientific evidence clearly shows that prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos has harmful effects on the IQ and the thickness of the cerebral cortex. Chlorpyrifos is toxic to the central nervous system, that is, neurotoxic, and is an endocrine disruptor, especially to thyroid hormones. Thus, this insecticide interferes with normal brain development. "

“It has taken us a long time until we have realized that chlorpyrifos is a of the most despicable chemicals”Points Thomas Backhaus, Professor of Toxicology and Environmental Sciences at the University of Gothenburg. “In comparison with glyphosate, the active substance of Monsanto's Roundup, the chlorpyrifos has flown outside the radar detection. When we apply herbicides such as glyphosate that kill weeds, people can deal with it because we don't have chlorophyll and does not affect us directly. However, when we talk about insecticides, we have the problem that they affect the development of animals, including humans, ”explains Backhaus.

One more example of many others we have collected during the research: professors from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) published last March an essay in which they linked autism and premature brain damage in California children who have had permanent exposure to chlorpyrifos in their prenatal and infant stages. The study reveals that the risk of brain damage is increased when the mother has been exposed during pregnancy to fields where this insecticide was applied.

The most used pesticide in Spain

Chlorpyrifos is a pesticide very unknown to public opinion. However, it is the most widely used chemical principle in agriculture in Spain to liquidate insect pests that threaten crops. This is due to its great effectiveness in killing bugs. It is a very effective organophosphorus pesticide to fight pests. So infallible is it against the bugs to guarantee a good harvest that also ends the life of other animals, permanently pollutes the aquatic environment and harms human health.

But perhaps the reader is more interested in chlorpyrifos when we tell him that he accompanies him permanently in his daily life. It is present in the apples you eat, in pears, in tangerines; he expels it when he urinates or lives lodged in the umbilical cord that joins moms and their babies inside the amniotic sac.

According to El Confidencial's analysis of the databases of the Ministry of Health, Consumption and Social Welfare, chlorpyrifos is the most recurrent pesticide in the analyzed samples of agricultural products between 2015 and 2017. In addition, among the 4,677 tests, this pesticide appears in 400 cases, 8.5% of the total. Has a great presence in oranges, tangerines and bananas examined, but it is used in almost 100 agricultural products in our country.

In those three years, from 2015 to 2017, until 19 samples examined exceeded the maximum residue limit authorized, according to the analysis of the data of this medium. Although the Ministry of Health qualified El Confidencial that finally there were 17 cases, since “after applying the analytical uncertainty, two of them (of the three samples of 2015) were within the legal limits”.

Given the prevalence of citrus fruits in terms of the residues recorded by the samples, the three provinces of the Valencian Community are among the four with the most positive chlorpyrifos in the tests for the whole of Spain. He heads the Valencia list, where 153 cases occurred, and Alicante follows, with 53.

One of the letters sent in recent weeks to the European Commission in order to influence the non-prohibition of chloropyrifos was sent by Copa-Cogeca, an organization that groups most of the farmers and defends their interests in Brussels. In the letter he requested a "sufficient grace period" for agricultural producers to carry out a transition period. Its secretary general, Pekka Pesonen, argues that the withdrawal of chlorpyrifos and methyl chlorpyrifos from the market "could significantly compromise the European production of fruits and vegetables." Nevertheless, the ban on these pesticides in France in 2016 has not sunk, much less, their agricultural production.

This journalistic investigation is coordinated by Nils Mulvad from Investigative Reporting Denmark. Collaborators reporters of 'Süddeutsche Zeitung' and 'Bayerischer Rundfunk' (Germany), 'Knack' (Belgium), 'DanWatch' (Denmark), 'Oštro' (Slovenia), 'Le Monde' (France), 'VG' (Norway ), 'Newsweek' (Poland) and El Confidencial. It is partially funded by a help from the Journalism Fund, a non-profit organization that promotes transnational journalism.