Plant protection products (PPPs) help keep food on our tables. Herbicides kill weeds. Insecticides kill bugs. There are also fungicides and more. Together, they are pesticides: chemicals used to regulate, control or destroy unwanted weeds, insects, and bacteria.
These pesticides may seem too commonplace and ordinary to be interesting. But the fact is that increasing quantities of counterfeit pesticides have become part of criminal operations worldwide, in both developed and developing countries. And these counterfeit pesticides pose a threat to consumers, farmers, and the environment.
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What are counterfeit pesticides
Counterfeit pesticides are unregulated, untested, and unsafe. They usually look like the legal products, but they are not made by the authorized manufacturer.
Criminals illegally use the name and packaging to imitate legal products, just like with counterfeit makeup or bags. In the case of fake pesticides, they often present an inaccurate list of contents to make quick profits.
Counterfeits infringe on IP rights, such as trademark rights and copyrights. They can also violate the patent rights granted for a legitimate active substance or compound that required considerable R&D and a long authorization process.
The scale of the problem
The production and distribution of counterfeit pesticides take place on a global scale. It is estimated that counterfeit pesticides make up to 15% of the global market. They are flooding both developed and developing countries, yet developing countries are more vulnerable.
In Africa, most national associations report counterfeit pesticides are 15-20% of all pesticides, and much higher in extreme situations.
The global crop protection market is valued at $60 billion. Ukraine, for example, is estimated to use about 100,000 tons of pesticides every year, valued at about $2 billion. This market is attractive for criminals.
In Brazil, probably the world’s largest pesticide market, armed robbers are raiding farms and taking hostages, all in pursuit of pesticides, reports The Washington Post.
The article quotes Ricardo Rotunno, a state prosecutor in Mato Grosso do Sul, as saying, “When you consider all of the factors, this is more lucrative than drugs.”
Adverse effects of counterfeit pesticides
Criminals produce counterfeit pesticides in unregulated facilities or they adulterate or blend them in makeshift labs.
The illegal pesticides are not tested and do not adhere to regulatory requirements. This means they may have less of the active ingredients than the legal products rendering them ineffective.
They may use the wrong ingredients or formulations and this affects their safety and efficacy. Or they may contain cheaper or toxic ingredients, making them dangerous for people: workers, farmers, and consumers.
About three million cases of pesticide poisoning occur every year worldwide, resulting in an excess of 250,000 deaths, estimates the World Health Organization.
Counterfeit PPPs can poison the soil and contaminate water sources. “The use of counterfeit crop protection products may cause long-term pollution of soils, surface and groundwater, and threaten the biodiversity of local agroecosystems,” says Tamara Kutonova, UN Environment’s consultant in Ukraine in a UN report.
1. May contain chemicals that are banned or restricted in the territory
2. Are not authorized for sale by regulatory authorities
3. Can be toxic
4. May contain untested chemicals that can be ineffective or harmful
Reasons for the increase in counterfeit pesticides
With the rise in world population, there is a greater demand for food, and therefore more demand for counterfeit pesticides.
Most farmers view pesticides as part of their tool kit, a necessity in their fight to grow and protect their crops. The demand for cheap pesticides is high. Some farmers find counterfeits to be more attractive because they are cheaper. They fail to realize the harm of counterfeit pesticides until it is too late.
With hundreds of pesticide compounds available, regulations increasingly ban broad-spectrum pesticides in favor of specific chemicals that are more targeted. When farmers look for cheaper options, they may knowingly or unknowingly choose a banned pesticide.
Increasingly, criminal organizations are involved in the industry, looking for big and quick profits. Criminal organizations involved in the trade are sophisticated and hard to expose and they produce and distribute large quantities of counterfeit agrochemicals.
Enforcement in this industry is complex. It is hard to detect counterfeits. With more online and direct sales, it is easier for illicit players to reach farmers and sell their fakes.
Ways counterfeit pesticides enter markets
Counterfeit pesticides are everywhere, and they are common even in highly regulated markets such as the USA and the EU.
Counterfeit pesticides enter territories in different ways. They can look like a genuine product with falsified transport documents. The shipping documents may declare a certain pesticide, when in fact it is a different one. Or they make the origins of the product almost impossible to trace.
PPPs can either enter as ready-for-sale or in bulk – to be packed and labeled within the territory. Illicit players can also import the active ingredient and then produce, pack, and label the products within the territory, or bring the pesticides and then blend them with cheaper substances.
Ready-for-sale pesticides are often smuggled as packed and labeled products. In 2019, for example, officers stopped a truck in Brazil. It carried a pesticide named emamectin benzoate produced in China and smuggled into the country, with a street value of more than $2 million. And this is just one truck in Brazil.
In the EU, the parallel trade system can be used to enter illegal pesticides. A 2015 report by the European Commission concludes:
“There is considerable evidence to suggest that the parallel trade system is misused in order to both move illegal PPPs around the EU and to bring them to market; this is possible due to the absence of requirements to link the marketed parallel-traded product to the reference product batch at the time of sale.”
Wiser Market – Online brand protection for chemical companies
Counterfeit pesticides are a highly lucrative criminal operation. They damage the reputation of legitimate chemical companies, challenge sustainable agriculture, break laws, damage the environment, jeopardize the health and safety of farmers and consumers.
Counterfeits can discourage chemical companies from investing in the development of pesticides that can support food security around the world.
In short, they come with high risks.
Wiser Market promotes zero tolerance to counterfeits and illicit sellers by offering an online service that combines innovative technology, advanced tools, actionable data, and expert analysis.
Illegal products and content is then removed from marketplaces, websites, and apps to protect your brand and safeguard your sales.
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What are illegal pesticides?
Illegal pesticides include counterfeit pesticides, but they can also be pesticides that use unauthorized chemicals, illegal quantities of authorized chemicals, or contain no active substances. They also include falsified pesticides in terms of content or country of origin. Illegal pesticides also include pesticides that were not evaluated as required by law. In the U.S., for example, pesticides can be illegal if they have not been evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What are counterfeit pesticides?
Counterfeit pesticides are fake products produced and packaged to look like original legitimate products, although they are unauthorized. Counterfeits may be difficult to spot, especially with high-quality branding and packaging.
What are the negative impacts of counterfeit pesticides?
1. Threat to human health from consuming unsafe produce
2. Health risks to agricultural workers as well to workers at the manufacturing facility from toxic chemicals in counterfeit pesticides
3. Potential harm to the soil and environment
4. Economic effects on farmers who lose harvest due to ineffective counterfeit pesticides
5. Risk of buyers boycotting crops from territories with a higher risk of counterfeit pesticides
How to spot illegal pesticides?
It is not always easy to spot illegal pesticides. You cannot trust claims such as “safe to use”. Some tips that may help you to avoid counterfeit pesticides:
1. Instructions and warning are not written in local language
2. Check the label. For example, in the U.S., legal pesticides have an EPA Registration Number
3. Look at the label for the list of active ingredients
4. Check the dealer and buy from authorized dealers or other reputable sources