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New Zealand's fruit and vegetable export trade to Europe could be affected by as much as $600 million if a proposed European Union (EU) reduction of some pesticide residue levels on imported food goes ahead, Agcarm chief executive Graeme Peters says.
The European Commission (EC) had been looking at regulating common crop protection products that had endocrine-disrupting properties. The EC believed reducing endocrine-disrupting pesticides would benefit the environment; be good for the health of growers, workers, rural communities and consumers; and boost the economy.
It will release criteria to identify those properties in the next few weeks.
''Regulations in Europe are very political and heavily influenced by domestic pressures, such as the environmental lobbies,'' Mr Peters said.
''The proposal will slash acceptable pesticide residues in food to far below levels internationally agreed as safe.
''It is one of the hardest things about being a food exporter - the non-tariff barriers such as food safety.
''Often they just want to restrict a product and protect their own farming and farmers.''
The EU proposal said ''tolerance for import food products would be 0.01mg/kg or 10 parts per billion or the equivalent of less than two tablespoons of substance in an Olympic-sized swimming pool containing 2.5 million litres of water'' and was likely to affect up to 70 substances, Mr Peters said.
The EU's own farmers were not allowed to use substances containing endocrine disrupters (EDs) and the EU wanted to ensure countries that exported food to Europe did not either.
CropLife International, an American industry association for plant science, commissioned a report - ''Potential trade effects on world agricultural exporters of European Union regulations on endocrine disrupters'' - earlier this year, which said New Zealand could be affected by about $NZ600 million.
CropLife International will release the criteria document in September-October as part of public consultation.
Co-chairwoman of New Zealand's Soil and Health Association
Marion Thomson said markets around the world were crying out for clean, green, GE-free and organic food.
''If European markets ban imports of produce with residues of specific pesticides, or lower their accepted maximum residue levels, non-organic growers in New Zealand will have to respond by reducing or phasing out those chemicals, or by finding other markets,'' Ms Thomson said. CropLife International's director of international regulatory policy, crop protection, Bernhard Johnen, said the EC was in the process of defining criteria for endocrine-disrupting properties that would apply to biocides and crop protection products.
''It is important to point out that a public consultation will be held on the options for ED criteria,'' he saidAnybody anywhere will be invited to comment.
''We expect the consultation to be launched in October 2014, all via internet,'' Dr Johnen said.
The European Crop Protection Association, CropLife International and its members (such as Agcarm) wanted to draw the attention of governments to the potential impact of the EC activities.
''Discussions of the ECPA with various Directorates-general [DGs] of the EC continue, while awaiting the public consultation.''
If there was sufficient participation in the consultation, it might be possible to have criteria agreed on, which would limit the extent of the likely trade implications.
''This would include the New Zealand Government intervening directly with the EC, preferably via the DG Trade, and also express its view in via the public consultation.''
A Ministry for Primary Industries spokesman said: ''While the EU was investigating a number of the agricultural compounds currently registered for use in New Zealand, the EU has not finalised its rules and is intending to release a public document on proposals. ''Therefore, it is too early for New Zealand to consider what, if any, actions it will take in relation to the final rules.
''New Zealand officials have been in discussions with EU officials on better understanding of the proposed rules.''
Endocrine disrupters are natural or synthetic chemicals or compounds that affect the endocrine system's function. The system is a set of glands, hormones and receptor cells that helps control human and animal development, growth, reproduction and behaviour.
Endocrine disrupters are found in some pesticides, plastics and lotions, to name a few products.