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The chlorpropham file: soon to be forbidden, but now still in your products?

The use of chlorpropham (CIPC) will be forbidden by the European Commission in all EU member states – including the Netherlands – in the near future. Chlorpropham is a widely used herbicide for onions and a growth regulator to prevent the germination of potatoes. But according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), eating products that have been treated with chlorpropham is linked to health risks. The ban will take effect earlier in the Netherlands than in other EU member states: on 31 July 2020.
The change in the Maximum Residue Level (MRL) is expected to be announced quickly, and delaying or cancelling the ban appears unlikely. That looks like a problem for growers, packagers, the processing industry and retailers.

“Many of our customers are telling us that chlorpropham is an efficient and low-cost herbicide compared with alternatives. And certainly for potato growers, says Daphne van Damme, Senior Account Manager at Eurofins Food, Feed, Water Benelux. “Finding a good alternative isn’t easy. If they don’t use chlorpropham, growers and retailers won’t be able to keep potatoes for as long, and they may face higher costs.” As well as that, it’s hard to eliminate chlorpropham entirely. Traces of chlorpropham gas don’t just stick to the potatoes, but also to the walls, floors and fan blades in the storeroom where the gas is used. “Everything in that storeroom comes into contact with chlorpropham”, Van Damme explains. “And if you put new products into the same storeroom, there’s a strong possibility that they will also become contaminated with chlorpropham.”

Temporary MRL?
That doesn’t just apply to the products in a storeroom. “Contamination can also happen during transport”, says Van Damme. “If potatoes that have been treated are first transported by road, then chlorpropham can unintentionally reach other products in the storeroom through the walls, conveyor systems or crates.” Because it’s so hard to get rid of chlorpropham, there’s currently a lobby for a temporary MRL. And delaying the ban on chlorpropham is also being discussed. Growers in the USA are still allowed to keep using chlorpropham, and they can still export their products to Europe as long as the chlorpropham content stays below the permitted MRL. That has cause a lot of discussion in the potato business.

Thorough cleaning
But whatever happens, it looks like action will be needed to prevent contamination. According to Daphne van Damme, this is something that his customers are concerned about: “They’re now paying extra attention to thorough cleaning of their storerooms, both in their risk analysis and in the control measures they’re planning. And that’s quite a job, because the presence of chlorpropham in the storeroom is still undiminished. So the motto is to clean as much as possible. That can be either ‘dry’ or ‘wet’. Because the chlorpropham can also enter the pores in the concrete, it can still continue to be released for a long time, so deep cleaning is essential. Our consultants can advise you on how to deal with this threat. Solutions have also been found in the industry – for example by applying a coating to the walls which is intended to isolate the chlorpropham.”
Certainty after a swab test
“To help potato growers, we have developed an environment assessment ”, Vos explains. “During this assessment we take swab samples: using special swabs we take samples from the walls, floors, crates, conveyors, toilet cistern and ventilators in the storeroom, as well as from vans and trucks. The analysis shows how high the chlorpropham content still is, and if the cleaning work was effective. This means the growers know if any chlorpropham can still contaminate other products. We often see that some residual chlorpropham is still present.”

“We hope there will quickly be a solution for potato and onion growers”
The result of the analysis is already available the next working day. “The use of chlorpropham is quite old”, says Vos, “and we’ve been monitoring it closely for a long time using the GCMS-MS method. But we can also analyse alternatives which the sector is looking at to replace chlorpropham. For example ethylene, 1,4-dimethylnaphthalene and maleic hydrazide. But we haven’t found the perfect answer yet. We hope a solution will soon be found for potato and onion growers.”
Enough potatoes and onions in the future
Van Damme also hopes that will be the case: “But unfortunately we can’t do without crop protection products: then there wouldn’t be enough food for everyone on the planet. To meet that need, we have to be able to keep potatoes for longer and to protect onions. It’s important that the European Commission looks strictly at the health concerns and lays down legal standards for crop protection products. We’re waiting eagerly for an alternative!”
Are you interested in an analysis for chlorpropham in your product or in an environment assessment in your storeroom or transport facilities? Or would you like advice on deep cleaning your transport facilities or storeroom? If so, please contact us at or on +31(0)114383824.

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