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EFSA to inspect Kenyan horticulture industry control systems

In November 2013, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) undertook an inspection visit to Kenya to conduct an audit of the Kenyan horticulture industry following growing concern over the safety of vegetable exports. The EU has been closely monitoring the incidence of pesticide residues in peas and French beans imported from Kenya for the past 3 years. Since 2011, this has revealed higher residue levels in a number of consignments, giving rise to stricter EU controls on peas and beans from January 2013, with 10% of all imports being sampled.

Intensified controls have reduced the shelf life and commercial value of exports, resulting in the destruction of some consignments, as they had passed their expiry date. There has also been an increase in the costs of control measures, which is undermining the competitive position of Kenyan pea and bean exporters.

In April 2013, a survey carried out by the inter-professional organisation, COLEACP, showed a big decline in export volumes to the EU in JanuaryMarch 2013 compared to the same period in 2012, and a worrying tendency for exporters to decrease sourcing from small-scale outgrowers, who have traditionally been major producers of these crops.

COLEACP considers the increase in controls to be unjustified since very few of the occasions when pesticide residue exceeded maximum regulatory levels were sufficiently high to signify a risk to consumers. However, it has been alleged that some suppliers of peas and beans disregarded basic safety compliance procedures when using pesticides, notably dimethoate. According to an update produced by the Kenya Flower Council (KFC), this has given rise to broader concerns over controls of the marketing and use of plant protection products, controls of pesticide residues in plants of origin, laboratories for pesticides residue analysis and export procedures. It has also raised concerns over documentation and traceability for plant health, export controls for plant health, [and] issues of phytosanitary certificates. There is, therefore, a recognised need in Kenya to tighten up procedures and controls, and companies are already changing the way they buy and use pesticides to ensure that there are no residue problems. For example, there have been reduced purchasing from brokers.

A multi-stakeholder coalition led by the Kenyan Plant Health Inspectorate Services has developed an action plan aimed at ensuring that increased EU border controls are lifted as soon as possible. This includes training on pesticide use, a strengthened national residue monitoring plan, and an enforcement programme. Addressing the current pesticide residue crisis through industrywide action is considered essential if Kenya is to to remain a commercially viable supplier of fresh peas and beans.

According to the Horticulture Crop Development Agency, as part of the EFSA inspection all exporters of peas and beans have to provide details of the safety standards of their products in line with the requirements of new stricter EU regulations. Applicants seeking to make shipments to the EU must get approval for the pesticide used by submitting scientific information about the minimum amounts necessary to protect a crop and the residue level remaining on the crop after such treatment.

The problems occurring in the Kenyan horticulture sector have been attributed in the Kenyan press to a few rogue operators who take shortcuts and cause problems for everyone by making it difficult to ensure traceability to specific producers.