More than 7.7 million tonnes of fresh vegetables were traded between European Union countries in 2007, and while fresh vegetables occupy only a small proportion of our farmland, they are particularly valuable to the agricultural sector.
These are just a couple of the headline facts established by ENDURE’s vegetable case study, which has published its first report, examining the protection methods available for five major crops in the seven countries participating in the study.
The report, Protection methods available for five major crops chosen within participating countries , makes intriguing reading as researchers clearly establish that growers of cabbage, onion, carrot, lettuce and leek have recourse to very different ranges of plant protection products (PPPs) depending on the country in which they are based.
Overall, say researchers, there are still quite a significant number of active ingredients and pesticides registered for use on these five important crops and comparatively few biological control agents or methods compatible with organic farming, with the exception of copper and sulphur-based formulations.
This is significant as many European governments have active campaigns to persuade citizens to eat more vegetables and, though the system of maximum residue levels (MRLs) sets limits for pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables, producing vegetables with the lowest possible residue levels remains crucially important for consumers.
The continued availability of some pesticides is also under doubt, as some active ingredients (AIs) are expected to be withdrawn as part of Europe’s changing regulatory system for PPPs (for example, products to control flies on cabbage and carrot).
Significant differences across Europe
Analysis of the pesticides registered for use in the seven countries studied (Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland), shows that more herbicides are registered for onion than for other crops and more insecticides for cabbage and lettuce than for carrot, onion and leek. Onion and lettuce are the crops with the highest number of registered fungicides.
For each vegetable and country the ENDURE research team has examined four pest categories for which pesticides are used: weeds, insects, diseases and others (for example, nematodes, slugs, snails and mites).
Then for each pest category and country, they have identified the number of targets on which pesticides are used (the target is defined by the registration process). For each target, the number of active ingredients (AI) or mixtures of AIs which received registration in each country has been counted. The number of AIs or mixtures of AIs for each target has been calculated for each pest category to give a pesticides per target figure. Researchers have also established the number of commercial products brought to the market for each pest category and country.
Differences between the countries studied are large, say researchers. For example, the number of AIs registered varies greatly between countries. Methods to control weeds, insects and diseases in cabbage rely on 60 AIs in Switzerland, 43 in Spain and just nine in Denmark.
In fact, say researchers, Denmark is the country with the fewest pesticide options. Its highest score in terms of AIs in a specific pest category is the seven available for controlling insects on lettuce. The number of AIs available in other countries for the same use ranges from nine in The Netherlands up to 28 in Spain.
Switzerland, of course, is the only country studied which is not a Member State of the European Union and the researchers note this has affected both the availability of AIs and the number of registered products available. “In Switzerland the re-evaluation of pesticides that has greatly reduced the number of available active ingredients in many EU Member States in the last decade has only started recently. Therefore many products with old actives are still approved, although no longer available on the market,” they say.
Switzerland is also notable for the fact that it offers the largest range of biological control agents (BCAs) and natural products such as sesame oil, Spinosad and pyrethrins. Furthermore, the Swiss situation shows there is not necessarily a link between the number of pesticides registered and the quantity of pesticide applied. This suggests, say the researchers, “that reducing the number of registered pesticides is not the only way for reducing the use of pesticides”.
ENDURE’s researchers detail a number of reasons contributing to the differences in pesticide availability:
More IPM research needed
While the researchers concede it is difficult to draw conclusions on the specific or combined influence of these factors based on the evidence of the case study, the situation has a significant impact on growers, who feel they are facing unfair competition. Most EU vegetable production is traded within the EU and produce from different countries, grown using different protection methods, is competing for the same shelf space.
“It is important that the harmonisation of the registration and marketing of pesticides occurs between countries, although there might be room for specificities as some pests may be important in one country and secondary in another,” they conclude.
“A common effort between European countries to develop common and new methods of control for vegetable crops appears to be necessary. Considering that the pesticide industry is not expected to produce many new products in the years ahead, the investment for research must be on alternative methods and Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Having such an objective should also be a way to respond to the need for healthy products.”
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