Malta in talks to test pesticides


Maltese authorities have started talks with another EU member state to allow them to test the chemical composition of pesticides found on the local market in a foreign laboratory, after an audit by the European Commission revealed that no such a test had not taken place since at least 2005.

“We have established communication with another EU member state in order to be able to use their laboratory for the execution of formulation analyses,” a spokesperson for the Maltese Authority told MaltaToday. Competition and Consumer Affairs (MCCAA).

This follows a damning audit report from the European Commission, which indicates that the effectiveness of controls on the use of pesticides in Malta is negatively affected by the lack of access to a laboratory with “d ‘formulation analysis’.

The report reveals that no formulation analysis has been carried out since the last CE audit in 2005, which also denounced the absence of laboratory tests.

in 2020, approximately 10% of samples taken from products grown in the country revealed exceedances of maximum pesticide residue limits in treated crops (MRLs), while in 2019 it was almost 15%.

This is much more than the average level of MRL exceedances in the EU for products, which was 2.7%.

According to the audit, the absence of a designated laboratory for formulation analyzes not only limits the scope of official controls, but also makes it “impossible” for competent authorities to confirm that pesticides placed on the market comply with requirements. authorization.

A call for tenders to identify and designate a laboratory for this purpose was launched in July 2021. However, no EU laboratory expressed interest and the call for tenders therefore had to be republished in September 2021. The EC audit also reprimanded the Malta Competition and Consumer Authority for failing to take legal action against the widespread misuse of pesticides.

“The Authority has so far focused on high-risk areas and since the audit has updated its activities to cover other categories of users in line with the recommendations of the audit,” said replied the MCCAA spokesperson.

The spokesperson also referred to the main initiatives undertaken in recent months, including “a recent overhaul of the Authority’s inspection framework”. In fact, the audit report indicates that Malta has a robust system in place which can support the implementation of official controls. The MCCAA has also enhanced the quality and availability of training programs for professional pesticide users.

Pesticide residue alarm

The European Commission’s audit revealed that in 2020, about 10% of samples taken from crops grown in the country showed exceedances of maximum pesticide residue limits in treated crops (MRLs), while in 2019 , the overrun rate was close to 15%.

This is much more than the average level of MRL exceedances in the EU for products, which was 2.7%.

One reason for this is that due to economies of scale, a number of EU-compliant pesticides are not even registered in Malta, MaltaToday has learned.

According to the MCCAA spokesperson, work is underway to improve farmers’ access to “a variety of pesticides with the aim of supporting better MRL results”.

Maltese farmers, who are already facing existential challenges as local markets are flooded with foreign produce and more land is lost to development, have taken umbrage at what they see as “unfair comparisons”.

Speaking on behalf of Ghaqda Bdiewa Attivi, agribusiness expert Malcolm Borg described the comparison between pesticide residues in Maltese and European crops as “an unfair comparison”.

Borg noted that the average EU minimum residue level (2.7%) takes into account products that are not made in Malta and which pose a “very low risk” in terms of pesticide residues, for agronomic reasons or subsequent handling processes. Indeed, these residues do not easily accumulate on products like linseed, cassava roots, rice, currants, which are widely grown in the EU but not in Malta.

“This lowers the overall EU average and for this reason it is unfair to compare Malta’s residue results on fresh produce with such an average,” Borg said.

Why does Malta have a pesticide problem?

The EU Food Veterinary Office audit revealed a high level of non-compliance regarding the sale of unauthorized pesticides. In fact, 47% and 43% of randomly checked products in 2019 and 2020 respectively weren’t even allowed.

But according to Borg, it is the small size of the Maltese market that is causing this problem. Because whenever the European Union decides to ban a specific pesticide from the market, local distributors end up with stocks of the banned product because it is very difficult to sell it in a short time, simply because Maltese farmers use small amounts of produce due to very limited growing areas.

Moreover, when a farmer buys a product to control a particular pest on a particular crop, such a product lasts a very long time and therefore it would not need to be repurchased frequently.

“Afterwards, the distributor finds it increasingly difficult to get rid of this stored product because purchases by farmers would be rare,” explains Borg.

In addition, pesticide manufacturers often decide not to register their new products in Malta due to the narrowness of its market. “So we end up having pesticides banned by the European Union but nothing to replace them in Malta,” Borg said.

Borg considers this to be very unfair with Maltese farmers being left with no options in their arsenals to control various pests while their competitors in other EU countries have the luxury of choosing from a wide range of control products.

These new products are not even registered in Malta, but nevertheless find their place in the local market. Borg asks “if these products are deemed acceptable (and have passed the rigorous evaluation process) in other EU countries, why can’t they be used in Malta as well?”

The MCCAA is also trying to address this issue caused by the unavailability of compliant pesticides, which are not registered in the Maltese market.

“Work is also underway to improve access to a variety of pesticides in an effort to support better MRL results,” said an MCCAA spokesperson.

Towards toxic-free Agriculture

While Maltese farmers may face an uphill battle to survive let alone compete with foreign imports, the impact of pesticides on consumer health is undeniable.

Annalize Falzon and Anne Marie Apap of Friends of the Earth Malta referenced scientific research showing a strong link between pesticides and cancer, as well as brain damage leading to diseases like Parkinson’s disease.

“We urgently need much more ambitious action to reduce the use (and risk) of synthetic pesticides to tackle the biodiversity and health crisis and ensure sustainable production of healthy food” , they said.

The organisation, which is currently organizing an outdoor photography exhibition featuring 10 Maltese farmers practicing environmentally friendly practices (page 16) is far from insensitive to the plight of local farmers.

In fact, the organization argues that additional Common Agricultural Policy grants and financial resources should also be directed “to help farmers make the necessary transition to toxic-free farming.”

But they insist the ultimate goal should be a complete phase-out of pesticides, as demanded by 1.2 million EU citizens in the European Citizens’ Initiative Save Bees and Farmers, who called for an 80% reduction by 2030 and a full phase. phase out synthetic pesticides by 2035 to address biodiversity and health crises.

Following the report, Friends of the Earth Malta is also calling on the authorities to increase and improve the effectiveness of enforcement measures and penalties in the area of ​​pesticide use.

The NGO also pointed out that there seems to be a worrying lack of information about what is happening with the disposal of unauthorized products.

FOE Malta has long called for an increase in agro-ecological farming practices. “Malta’s agricultural policies must align with the European Green Deal, the Farm to Fork Strategy, the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 and other EU policies.”

These include increasing the share of organic farming to at least 25% by 2030 and supporting current farmers who want to transition from pesticide-based farming to agro-based farming practices. ecological.

FOE also expressed disappointment that the European Commission postponed proposals for EU regulations on reducing pesticides that should have been presented on March 23, as well as binding nature restoration targets.

“They are too weak to address the urgent health and biodiversity crises we find ourselves in. We need better and more ambitious regulation to ensure long-term healthy diets where synthetic chemical pesticides do not. are used only as a last resort.

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