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Fake pesticides pose threat

November 5, 2006 By Katharine Sanderson This article courtesy of Nature News.

Flood of counterfeit chemicals is harming people and industry.

An industry body has issued a warning to European farmers buying cut-price pesticides for their fields: some cheap products, it says, could be a fake.

The scale of the problem prompted the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) to last month announce plans to clamp down on what they say could be costing the industry up to €510 million (US$650 million) each year between 5 and 7% of the market. The ECPA's anti-counterfeit programme, launched at the British Crop Protection Association's annual conference, aims to stop the growing problem by raising awareness. It will also protect the commercial interests of the industry.

Some of the pesticide fakes are sophisticated copies of real products, but others are cheap imitations, according to a report in the magazine Chemistry and Industry.

The problem is similar to that faced by the pharmaceutical industry with fake drugs; counterfeit malaria pills, for example, are a big problem in Asia. In Europe, less than 1% of drugs are thought to be fake a much smaller percentage of the market.

Food safety at risk

The problems caused by fake pesticides are clearly not as devastating as those caused by fake medications. But the ECPA reports that some 'unapproved and potentially dangerous' compounds may end up on fruit and vegetables in supermarkets, and, they claim, some people have become ill by consuming them. Plus there are potentially damaging impacts on the farmers handling the chemicals, and on the environment including the loss of crops.

"Farmers put their livelihoods in jeopardy if they buy something that is not the legitimate product," says the ECPA's Rocky Rowe, who is headlining the campaign. There are numerous cases of crops being severely damaged or destroyed because a counterfeit protection agent was used, he says.

"In Europe it's mainly a problem of patent infringement," says Bernd Gerling of the chemical company BASF. Improved packaging and labelling are practical steps that pesticide manufacturers can take, but the problem is still increasing, he says.

Rowe says the extent of the problem ranges widely from country to country. In Poland as much as 10% of all pesticides used could be fake, he says, and in the Almeria region of Spain it could be as high as 25%. Almerian fruit crops are very much under the control of criminal gangs, he alleges.

The problem is how to raise awareness of the counterfeit pesticides, says Rowe. "Our business is relatively small," he says when compared with other industries beset by such problems. "We're fighting to get on to the political agenda."

The ECPA's campaign is targeted at two projects, in Poland and Spain. The Polish effort aims to bring together enforcement agencies and educate farmers.

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