France has apparently shot itself in the foot, with the French Food Safety Authority (ANSES) deciding to ban the use of the insecticide phosphine from April 25. The insecticide in question is used in the storage and transport of cereals, mainly to preserve freshness and kill insect pests. However, ANSES has banned the use of insecticides containing aluminum phosphide because the gas they produce can cause neurological or respiratory disorders if inhaled in large quantities, according to an article in the French daily L’Opinion.
According to the paper, following a unilateral decision by ANSES, France will be banned from exporting cereals to countries outside Europe from April 25. Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Ivory Coast will only allow shipments that have been treated with phosphine tablets to be unloaded at their ports. This is to prevent the insects from spreading from one country to another. The newspaper points out that the volume of grain involved is considerable, 11.5 million tons, with a foreign trade value of no less than €3.8 billion.
Guillaume Kasbarian, a pro-government politician and chairman of the National Assembly’s economic committee, said it was incomprehensible that ANSES had banned the use of phosphine despite the fact that the insecticide is included in the standards of the countries to which France sells its cereals.
He also pointed out that, unlike in France, most neighboring European countries have renewed their authorizations for the use of phosphine in recent months. As a result, he said a totally absurd situation has arisen: While cereals imported into France are still treated with phosphine, the insecticide cannot be used on cereals grown there.
Speaking on the subject to Radio Sud, Éric Thirouin, president of the French wheat and cereal producers, said that if France stopped supplying grain to the North African countries in question, there would be a major food shortage there.
He pointed out that the ANSES decision is likely to have two possible outcomes. In the first scenario, Russia, the world’s leading exporter of cereals, will supply the above-mentioned countries with cereals; in the second scenario, if the North African countries are unable to import cereals, serious unrest could be expected.
Those who championed the ban point out that phosphine is a highly toxic gas, which can result in DNA damage, cardiac issues, brain damage, and other serious medical conditions. Ingesting the pesticide remains a common form of suicide in parts of Asia. In recent years, there have also been a number of accidents due to workers and humans coming in contact with fumigated cargoes of wheat and other agricultural products.