A new campaign, launched January 17th, is hoping to raise awareness of the risks posed by illegal pesticides sold to farmers in the EU.
According to the Watch Out movement, these chemicals are often sold by organised criminal gangs from Eastern Europe. They pass off imports from China as products made by reputable pesticide firms.
The campaign is hoping to provide knowledge to companies that work with the UK’s food supply chain about the growing threat illegal pesticide use poses to consumers in terms of food safety, as well as possible damage to the environment.
These unauthorised chemicals can also affect a farmer’s livelihood - if they are caught using them they could be prosecuted.
The Watch Out campaign was launched at a meeting arranged by the Crop Protection Association in London. It is also supported by the Voluntary Initiative (VI) - a body set up to promote responsible pesticide use and minimise their environmental impact – and Red Tractor Assurance.
According to Foodmanufacture.co.uk, Patrick Goldsworthy, found of the VI, said that pesticides are often imported to the EU in bulk batches from China before being repackaged by criminal gangs in Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Baltic states and Balkans.
The illegal pesticides are then sold to unsuspecting farmers or others prepared to buy cheap products without checking their origins.
Mr Goldsworthy claimed that as much as seven to ten per cent of all pesticides used in the EU are illegal. These figures rise to 25 per cent in some member countries.
He added: “We need to stop this happening; we need to stamp it out. Our objective is to raise awareness up and down the supply chain. If we become complacent, it will become a bigger issue.”
David Stuart, anti-counterfeit leader at pesticide supplier Dow Agrosciences, estimates that the global market for illegal pesticides is around $10 billion (£6.1 billion), according to the online publication.
The problem is believed to be less significant in the UK - estimates put the figure at less than one per cent - however, nobody can really measure how prevalent it really is.
Campaigners fear with big profits to be made by criminals and minimal risk for them, the problem is likely to grow.