March 11, 2018

An op-ed of 15 French NGOs, including Justice Pesticides, on misleading labelling “Zero pesticide residues”.

Pesticides have been an important topic at the French Agriculture Fair in Paris, which has just closed its doors. While all stakeholders now agree on the urgency of reducing pesticide use, the idea is also making its way into the minds of consumers and retailers. In this context, labels flourish… and not all labels are equal.

That is why our associations committed to sustainable food are alerting citizens about this new approach: the “zero residue of pesticides” labeling. In addition to being inaccurate, this label does not meet the global challenges associated with reducing the use of these molecules. And thus spoiles the choice of consumers who wish to be careful about what they buy.

Protecting our health and the environment

This label is inaccurate because, in order to find a molecule, one has to look for it. It is therefore impossible to guarantee that a food contains no residues; it is only possible to specify that none of the pesticides sought were found. And sliding from one to the other is far too common. It is therefore necessary to be vigilant: when one reads “zero residue”, one must deduce from it “zero residue among the Xs that have been looked for…”. In addition, analytical results can vary up to 50% depending on the laboratory and the methods used.

Pesticides are dangerous on our plates, but they are also dangerous in our environment. It is not because food products do not show any trace of pesticides when they arrive on the shelves that they were not sprayed in the field. Pesticides end up in the air and water, endangering farmers’ health, the health of local residents and, quite simply, all ecosystems. Today, 92% of the rivers tested in France contain traces of pesticides and more than 25% of pollinators have disappeared in the last thirty years. Not to mention the cocktail effect of pesticides: mixing these chemicals can have unpredictable toxicity, which can be higher than for each pesticide taken individually. This new labeling approach does not answer to all the health and environmental issues raised by the use of pesticides.

Let’s mobilize for an exit of pesticides

The history of agronomy in the 20th century is marked by a gradual simplification of the questions asked: it is essential that the question of pesticides not be reduced to the same fate! The only solution to keep us away from pesticides is therefore to limit the use of these molecules globally. For this, it is necessary to initiate a change of agri-food models that will stimulate the ecological transition of agriculture. Every consumer can act by promoting truly sustainable agriculture: organic farming, which uses no synthetic pesticides, or agroecology, which reduces the use of pesticides and is now recognized by an official environmental certification, the “High Environmental Value”.

After 10 years of failure of public policies on pesticide reduction, our associations demand that the government and big retailers take their responsibilities: by accompanying farmers towards a reduction in the use of pesticides, but also by committing themselves to consumers to ensure that information (origin of products, pesticides used, etc.) is transparent. This will require political will, resources and results that are at last commensurate with the health and environmental emergency in which we find ourselves.

Signatories: Attac France, Bio Consom’acteurs, Commerce Equitable France, Eau et Rivières de Bretagne, FNH, France Nature Environnement, Générations Futures, Greenpeace, Justice Pesticides, LPO, MABD, MIRAMAP, OGM Dangers, WECF, WWF.