France set to ban dimethoate-treated cherries

(Peggy Greb photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

Paris | Reuters — France will stop importing cherries from countries that use insecticide dimethoate after banning the chemical due to concerns over consumer health risks, the French agriculture ministry said.

At a meeting of European Union country representatives on Friday, Italy and Spain said they would also withdraw dimethoate from their markets, but France said it would still move to prevent the import of cherries from countries that continued to allow the pesticide, used against fruit fly.

“France confirmed today that it would not grant any exemption to use dimethoate for protecting cherries, a position also announced by Italy and Spain,” the ministry said in a statement.

Under EU procedures, France’s urgent action would normally trigger another meeting of countries representatives within a week.

France had called for an emergency EU-wide measures to prevent the use of products containing dimethoate and the marketing of cherries grown using them at a closed-door meeting of experts representing the 28 EU member states on Friday.

The European Commission, however, said it opposed the idea of immediate restrictions.

“The Commission… considers that an emergency EU-wide measure is not the appropriate tool to manage this specific situation. This view was shared at the Standing Committee by a majority of Member States,” a Commission spokesperson said.

France’s health and safety agency withdrew the licence for dimethoate in February, and has since sought an EU-wide ban.

France imported around 7,000 tonnes of cherries in 2014, compared with domestic production of 47,000 tonnes, according to figures from farm office FranceAgriMer.

France, Italy and Spain are among the major cherry growers in the EU which also include eastern members Poland, Hungary and Romania.

Dimethoate-based products, which have previously been withdrawn for use on some other crops, are made by companies including Germany’s BASF and Cheminova, part of FMC.

Products such as FMC’s Cygon and Loveland Products’ Lagon are registered in Canada for uses in several field crops, fruits and vegetables, ornamentals and alfalfa. Controlled pests on the products’ Canadian labels include aphids, thrips and grasshoppers, among others.

Cheminova said earlier this week it would not challenge the French ban but was following the procedure to renew its EU approval for dimethoate that expires in July 2018.

France said an opinion issued this week by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) supported its position by suggesting that health risks could not be excluded on the basis of available data.

The French farm ministry says alternative products exist to treat cherries, a position rejected by farmers who say dimethoate is the only effective treatment at a time of high fruit fly presence.

Reporting for Reuters by Gus Trompiz and Alissa de Carbonnel.

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