Danish minister for food Mogens Jensen, a Social democrat, has instructed the national food administration to prepare a total Danish ban on food treated with the pesticide chlorpyrifos.
But Peter Pagh, a professor in environmental law at Copenhagen University calls it a blow in the air, as EU countries cannot ban such imports on their own.
Henrik Dammand Nielsen, a head of section for chemistry and food quality at the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, the Fodevarestyrelsen, has said Denmark has asked the European Commission about its plans to ban EU-wide use of chlorpyrifos and expects a reply from Brussels within five to six weeks.
“If we haven’t received a reaction, we will go forward with preparing a national import ban,” he said.
These preparations come parallel to the ongoing process of whether to prolong a present EU-approval of the pesticide or not.
The use of chlorpyrifos is banned in several member states, but treated food reaches consumers through imports from countries where use is allowed. An EU-wide decision is expected in December at the latest.
The Danish wish to act faster was triggered by a recent statement from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), an EU agency in Italy.
Critics get attention
EFSA experts declared on 2 August that there was no discernible safe human dosage-level for chlorpyrifos and for a related product called chlorpyrifos-methyl. Both pesticides “may damage the 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 (called Cortega Agriscience since 1 June).
These studies were last year found to be misleading by environmental experts Axel Mie, Philippe Grandjean, and Christina Ruden.
In its recent statement, EFSA said 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 space for temporary bans “where it is evident that food or feed originating in the [European] Community or imported from a third country is likely to constitute a serious risk to human health”.
But, says Peter Pagh, as professor in environmental law at Copenhagen University, such a ban can only be upheld temporarily as the EU commission and other member states will also get to have their say on it in within 10 working days.
“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,” he told EUobserver.
“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 seeking political goodwill by waging a battle it cannot win,” he added.
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 EU treaty must be motivated by specific conditions in the country asking for it and is not seen as being relevant in the case of chlorpyrifos.
“Chlorpyrifos is harmful to all, not only to Danes. We won’t go down that road,” said Henrik Dammand Nielsen at the food administration.