Threat to French grain exports? For several days, a decision by the National Health Security Authority (ANSES) has been agitating the agricultural and political spheres. Taken in October 2022, it will apply from April 25: it is a question of restricting the conditions of use of two insecticides releasing phosphine (PH3), a substance used in the holds of ships to ensure the preservation of cereals .
These insecticides can still be used but can no longer be applied “in direct contact with cereals”. Today they are placed in the form of aluminum phosphide tablets in the middle of the grain during transport. In contact with humidity, they release a very toxic gas (phosphine) capable of killing larvae and insects even inside the seeds.
Concern of cereal farmers
The product can also be applied “indirectly”, that is to say placed in a sachet, which allows gas to pass through and limits insecticide residues. This is the crux of the problem: “A large majority of importing countries are not equipped to treat this waste (bags, editor’s note) and therefore require in their specifications a use in direct contact”, explains Christelle Tailhardat, secretary of Synacomex, the union of French grain exporters. ANSES’s decision would therefore make it de facto impossible to sell cereals to countries such as Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal or Morocco. “If we don’t find a solution, we will be deprived of a quarter of our exports, the equivalent of around 4 billion euros, worries Éric Thirouin, president of the Association of French Cereal Producers ( AGPB). This is an economic issue, but also a food security issue for these countries. »
Questioned by several deputies during the session of questions to the government on Tuesday April 11, the Minister Delegate for Foreign Trade, Olivier Becht, wanted to reassure them: “There are still legal clarifications to be made, but I can guarantee you that , by April 25, decisions will be made so that exports can continue. “ These deputies believe that ANSES has been too severe and castigate a “ban on phosphine” by the authority.
Two products affected
In practice, however, it is not phosphine that has been banned. In France, only one company markets this type of insecticide for this use in ships: the Dutch company UPL Holdings Coöperatief UA Two products are concerned and have benefited from a marketing authorization since 1993. This expires, it had to be re-examined by ANSES.
In order to obtain authorization for a given use, the company must expressly request it and be able to prove that the product is harmless to human health. However “the use in direct contact with the grain was not part of the request submitted to ANSES”, indicated the health agency to La Croix.
For what ? Still according to ANSES – which asked additional questions to the manufacturer last fall – it was the company itself which estimated that the “direct contact” method would lead to an overrun of the maximum residue level imposed by European regulations: since the first authorization in 1993, these maximum residue thresholds have been reinforced. The agency indicates that it could only review its decision in the event of a “new scientific fact”.
Legal exit door
How to get out of it, then? One of the solutions being studied by the government would be to use a derogation from the residue limits set at European level: a device permitted by Community texts for exports, provided that the third country accepts it. This would allow continued use of the substance “in direct contact”.
The file is now in the hands of the Prime Minister, whose decision is expected before the weekend.
French grain exports
France exports around half of its cereal production, according to Intercereals, making the country the fifth largest soft wheat exporter in the world.
China, Algeria and Morocco are France’s top three customers for soft wheat exports.
For the 2021-2022 campaign, 17 million tonnes of grain (wheat, maize, barley, etc.) were exported to the European Union and 13 million tonnes to the rest of the world.