A French ban on an insecticide used by cherry growers could escalate into a shutdown on imports of a broad range of produce, US officials warned, as concern farmer grows over European antipathy towards agrichemicals.
France has already angered its cherry farmers by deciding earlier this year to ban the use on the crop of dimethoate, a pesticide against fruit flies which can causes losses "close to 100% on infected orchards", the US Department of Agriculture bureau in Paris said.
French cherry producers, besides opening legal action against Anses, the country's food safety agency, dumped 300 cherry trees in front of local government offices in Provence, an area where the ban looks like to hot home particularly hard.
Provence-based Aptunion, a world name in production of sugar-preserved cherries, processing 8,000 tonnes a year, "may have to close some of its facilities" thanks to becoming "uncompetitive because of the losses to [fruit flies]", the USDA bureau said.
Indeed, after a "very mild and wet winter, French cherry producers are likely to face significant losses to the fly" thanks to the bar on use of dimethoate, which has been cleared by the European Commission for use.
The impact of the ban has also spread to cherry exporting countries, with France, a net importer of the fruit, banning buy-ins from countries, such as the US, where dimethoate use is permitted.
And the trade fears that France, in not being censured by the European Commission for its unilateral action, will extend bans elsewhere, affecting a wider range of crops.
"Importers fear that if the commission does not react promptly, France will implement soon similar domestic bans against other EU-approved pesticides or chemicals," the bureau said in a report.
Such action would result in "de-facto shutting down the free movement of EU and third countries fruits and vegetables into France".
The briefing added that "taking France to the European Court of Justice will take years".
The fuss represents the latest in a series of ructions over restrictions within Europe over cutting edge agricultural products - some even when they have been approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The future in the EU of glyphosate – one of the most widely used herbicides – hangs in the balance after the European Union earlier this week failed to agree an 18-month extension to use of the weedkiller, which Monsanto sells as Roundup.
Countries including France abstained in a vote over the extension.
The EFSA has backed glyphosate as "non carcinogenic", a finding at odds with an initial study from the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer - although a joint WHO-FAO committee this month said that the weedkiller was unlikely to cause cancer.
The result of EU's glyphosate vote has been cautiously welcomed by environmental campaigners such as Greenpeace, which said that "extending the glyphosate licence would be like smelling gas and refusing to evacuate to check for a leak".
However, leader at the Copa-Cogeca farmer lobbying tie-up said that they were "concerned about the systematic political interference in the science-based decision-making process in the EU", of which the failure to renew the glyphosate licence was "one of the latest examples.
"We believe that it is essential to build confidence in Europe's food safety system by strengthening the role of the European Food Safety Authority."
Copa-Cogeca added: "Due to its benefits and wide use, withdrawing [glyphosate] would create serious market disruptions in several agricultural sectors in the EU, thus jeopardising the competitiveness of European farmers on the global market.
"This is of particular import for the cereals sector."
By Mike Verdin