When it comes to growing and eating organic, Europe has long been a few steps ahead of the US. The EU drafted its first standardized guide to organic production and labeling all the way back in 1991, while comparable USDA guidelines weren't released stateside until more than a decade later, in 2002. In Europe, about 27 million acres of land are dedicated to organic growing; in America—land of the free and home of vast swaths of GM corn and soy—that figure is closer to 5 million acres. And while in the US, top pesticide producers such as Sygenta and Monsanto continue to rake in the big money, selling billions of dollars of chemicals each year, in Europe the tide is turning against these potentially life-threatening pesticides, with EU member states calling for a substantial reduction in their use. That has chemical makers quaking in their boots—so much so that the companies allegedly suppressed the release of an EU report on pesticides' toxic effects.
In 2013, according to The Guardian, the European Commission put together a comprehensive scientific report demonstrating the potential health risks associated with the use of commercial pesticides, including fetal abnormalities, genital mutations, infertility, cancers, and IQ loss. Use of these pesticides has also been linked to depression and even suicide in farmers in the US, Brazil, and China, among other places. These endocrine-disrupting chemicals—which are also found in common household products such as toiletries and cosmetics—result in hundreds of millions of euros of health costs each year.
The commission's paper, which remains unpublished, was supposed to launch EU bans of the hazardous chemicals, to be put into place by the end of 2013. But when big chemical industry players such as BASF caught wind of the report, The Guardian says, they exerted extreme pressure on the commission to keep its findings to itself.
"We were ready to go with the criteria and a strategy proposal as well but we we were told to forget about it by the secretary general's office," a commission source told the Guardian. "Effectively the criteria were suppressed. We allowed the biocides and pesticides legislation to roll over."
The massively profitable chemical companies are worried about their bottom line. According to research from Europe's Pesticide Action Network, the recommendations would have affected up to 31 pesticides with annual sales in the billions of dollars. But although the corporations may have temporarily convinced the European commission to sit on its findings, they'll eventually have to face a changing European tide.
Yesterday, experts representing EU member states announced that they're looking into restricting the use of 77 pesticide ingredients, a move that could affect up to 20 percent of all pesticides sold in Europe. And in France, agriculture minister Stéphane Le Foll has introduced a plan to halve pesticide use there by 2025, moving the country's agriculture towards more holistic, less chemically dependent methods.
Needless to say, European pesticide makers are not pleased with the continent's strides towards agricultural reform. Euros Jones, director of regulatory affairs at the European Crop Protection Association, told Chemical & Engineering News that "it will be difficult to meet these targets, which are politically driven."