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Counterfeit and illegal pesticides - how vulnerable is your raw material supply chain?

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It is estimated that up to 25% of all pesticides traded globally may be counterfeit or illegal. These pesticides are untested and unregulated and can result in risks to farmers and consumers health, economic losses and environmental damage. However, despite the high risk and growing nature of the problem, awareness in the food and drink industry is relatively low. In this article we consider the key questions those in the food and drink industry should use to assess their vulnerability.

Counterfeit and illegal pesticides - how vulnerable is your raw material supply chain?

What are counterfeit and illegal pesticides?

Counterfeit and illegal pesticides are untested and unregulated products being marketed by criminals across the world, usually for financial motives. The steady growth of the pesticide market has made the trade lucrative, and criminal groups are using more complex schemes such as repackaging and substitution to boost profitability. As a result the trade in counterfeit pesticides is estimated to be one of the top ten most lucrative organised crime businesses. These illegal products can result in:

  • Risks to human health, from poisoning both to farmers handling pesticides and consumers ingesting contaminated foodstuffs.
  • Economic losses, both to farmers in loss of yield, supply disruption and reputational damage.
  • Environmental damage from toxic effects on flora and fauna and contamination to land.

The high profit margin, combined with the lack of harmonisation in legislation, make counterfeit and illegal pesticides a fast growing area of organised crime. Counterfeit pesticides are often produced in Asian countries and shipped around the world. For countries in the EU, who are importing increasing volumes of pesticides from Asia, this is a huge problem.

However, despite the high risk to food supply chains awareness of the problem of counterfeit and illegal pesticides amongst those in the food and beverage industry and wider stakeholders is comparatively low, when compared to other types of fraud such as food adulteration and substitution. There is little or no mention of counterfeit or illegal pesticides in voluntary standards such as the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety, despite the risks to consumers. Taking account of the issue in existing supply chain risk management processes is likely to be beneficial, and reduce the risk of issues arising. 

Understanding where supply chains are vulnerable

A recent report by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe suggests a methodology for what governments should be doing at the national level to clamp down on this trade.  In parallel those in the food and beverage industry need to understand the issue, assess how vulnerable their raw material supply chains are to the problem. This may lead to additional controls that may be put in place for high risk areas or suppliers. Doing so will help reduce the risk of disruption to the supply of raw materials from contamination, or reputational damage to the business and its brands.

Some key questions can be used to assess where you are most vulnerable:

  • Can you map out your value chain? Do you know which raw materials have high pesticide usage and where they are sourced from?
  • Do you know which countries pose the highest risk for counterfeit and illegal pesticides?
  • Which pesticides are authorised for use on the raw materials used in production, are they prone to counterfeiting?
  • What voluntary standards and/or inspections are in place that may reduce the risk from certain producers or categories?
  • Are there any other controls, such as pesticide residue testing that may reduce the risk from certain producers or categories?
  • Are agricultural workers in the supply chain taking adequate safety precautions when handling pesticides?
  • Do you know from current pesticide residue testing programmes where you greatest future risks of exceedances might be?

How can ADAS help?

ADAS draws on its long history of working in the agri-food sectors to help develop practical solutions for our clients to identify and manage risks in agricultural supply chains. We work with large food businesses to develop and pilot risk assessment approaches in the supply chain which prioritise action to reduce risks. We draw on over 300 experts, and a 60 year history of engaging across the food supply chain, to help our clients manage risk, enhance credibility and identify opportunities for competitive advantage.

For more information on illegal/counterfeit pesticides, or ADAS’s approach to managing agricultural risks please contact Sarah Wynn on +44(0) 1954 268249 or click here to email Sarah.

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