The curious case of Copper Sulphate

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The curious case of Copper Sulphate


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The role of chemicals in agriculture is high on the EU policy agenda these days. A vocal organic lobby claims that outlawing synthetic pesticides is crucial for public health. On the other hand, farmers claim that pesticides and fertilizers are essential for their livelihoods.

But in the shadows of Brussels’ opaque comitology process, a chemical treatment has just had its authorisation extended despite EFSA raising numerous health concerns about it.

In 2015, the renewal process for copper compounds started. At the same time, copper compounds were added to the EU’s list for substitution which means they are “of particular concern to public health or the environment” and are to be “phased-out and replaced…”

Copper sulphate’s authorization was due to expire on 31 January 2018. Despite having data showing high risk to workers, birds, mammals and soil health, the Commission granted an extension of its authorization just before Christmas.

Interestingly, copper compounds (such as copper sulphate) are the most commonly used pesticide in the organics sector.

EFSA regularly measures pesticide residues in food and finds that copper compound residues are widespread on organic food.  Yet, despite the numerous health concerns, organic-boosting politicians such as Green MEP Martin Häusling have pushed for the removal of pesticide limits in the EU’s organic legislation saying that any measure limiting pesticide levels in organic products would hamstring green-minded farmers and ultimately prove harmful to the environment. At the same time, the Greens have of course been scathing of the EFSA review process for glyphosate and dismissive of farmer appeals.

Something doesn’t add up. The European Commission has taken very different approaches over the last year(s) when it comes to making decisions on public health, chemicals, and pesticides. This seems like a double standard. Not at the service of science, not in the service of the European citizen, but possibly… other interests.

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