18th-cen­tury pes­ti­cide sur­vives for another year

Irish Examiner - Farming - - TECHNOLOGY FOCUS - Stephen Cado­gan

A chem­i­cal used for fight­ing plant dis­eases since the 18th cen­tury has been ap­proved for con­tin­ued use in the EU by or­ganic farm­ers, de­spite the E u r o p e a n F oo d Safety Au th o r i t y a n d E u r o p e a n Chem­i­cals Agency iden­ti­fy­ing some risks to farm work­ers, b i r d s , m a mm a l s a n d s o i l or­gan­isms.

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion a n d m e m b e r s t a t e s h av e ex­tended once again the au­tho r i s a t i o n fo r c o p p e r c o mp ou nd s , i n clu di n g c op p e r sul­phate, as bac­te­ri­cides and fungi­cides in or­ganic farming, par­tic­u­larly for potato, grape, to­mato and ap­ple pro­duc­tion. Part of the leg­end be­hind the age- old cop­per sul­phate pes­ti­cide is that it was first used by those who no­ticed that fields close to cop­per-smelt­ing fac­to­ries were not dam­aged by potato blight.

The plant pro­tec­tion proper ties of Bordeaux mix­ture (cop­per sul­phate, wa­ter, and lime) were also re­por tedly dis­cov­ered by ac­ci­dent, when French wine­mak­ers sprayed it on their vine­yards to de­ter thieves from steal­ing ripen­ing grapes.

Since 1885, Bordeaux mix­ture has been used against the potato blight fun­gus, with the mix­ture known as “blue­stone” well known to Ir­ish farm­ers, and widely used by them un­til more mod­ern fungi­cides be­came avail­able since the 1940s.

In more re­cent years, org anic fa rm­ers here were still us­ing Bur­gundy mix­ture (cop­per sul­phate and wash­ing soda dis­solved in wa­ter), as the only sub­stance per­mit­ted for blight con­trol, but they were lim­ited to 6kg per hectare per year, with prior ap­proval from their or­ganic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion body. Or­ganic farm­ers are only al­lowed to use pes­ti­cides de­rived from nat­u­ral sources, and pro­cessed lightly, whereas con­ven­tional farm­ers can also use syn­thetic sub­stances. How­ever, there have been ques­tion marks over their use o f c o pp e r s u l ph at e , du e t o fears about cop­per’s tox­i­c­ity, and ac­cu­mu­la­tion in the soil and in or­ganic foods.

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion ex­tended ap­provals in 2014 for use of cop­per com­pounds, on con­di­tion that mea­sures were taken to re­duce their use, and to al­low fur­ther en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ments to be car­ried out.

This ex­ten­sion was due to ex­pire last week, pend­ing the re­sults of a mon­i­tor­ing pro­gramme.

But in De­cem­ber, the EU’s Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on Plants, An­i­mals, Food and F e e d wh i c h h a s m e m b e r s from the Com­mis­sion and the mem­ber states, ex­tended a p p ro va l s for one year, al­though the mon­i­tor­ing pro- gramme re­sults have not been pub­lished.

Only France and Swe­den a re be li eve d t o h av e vo t e d against re-ap­proval.

A s a re s u l t , p e rh a p s t h e only pes­ti­cide cel­e­brated in Ir­ish po­etry con­tin­ues in use. Spray­ing the Pota­toes

(by Pa­trick Ka­vanagh) The bar­rels of blue potatospray,

Stood on a head­land in July, B e s i d e a n o r c h a r d w al l where roses,

Were young girls hang­ing from the sky.

Spray­ing the pota­toes with blue­stone; the more than 130-years old tech­nol­ogy con­tin­ues af­ter the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and mem­ber states ex­tended once again the au­tho­ri­sa­tion for cop­per com­pounds.

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