Phosphine ban in France to kill trade instead of pests

How new legislation could destroy 1/4 of French grain exports.

From April 25th, the use of phosphine tablets in grain exports will be banned in France. But how will this affect your trade and your buyers? We speculate in this article.

What is the new ban on phosphine for French cereals?

Phosphine is a commonly used insecticide, used to stop insects from being transported from one country to another in food shipments. To do this, the grains need to be placed in an airtight space with phosphine tablets for several days.

A shipping hold is the perfect place to carry out this process as the grains will be in transit for several days, and they will not be exposed until they are at destination.

However, the French National Foods Safety Agency () has not renewed authorisation of phosphine tablets to be marketed for contact with grains. Their decision, made in October 2022, is due to the risk of neurological or respiratory disorders if you are exposed to large doses of the gas.

Exporters of cereals have raised objections since the decision, citing that EU legislation does approve of the use of phosphine tablets and that other EU countries have recently renewed their authorisation, but the ban is still set to go ahead next week.

If there is no change, how does this affect grain exports in France?

Grain is one of France’s biggest surplus commodities in the agricultural sector, accounting for over 14.5 billion Euros of export trade in 2022. Approximately a quarter of these exports were sent to countries that require phosphine fumigation to import the grains.

Without fumigating the cargo, customs at the port of import will reject the load during import clearance and send it back to the seller. This creates unrecoverable costs for the shipper in freight and freshness of cargo, as well as potentially affecting future business with the buyer.

Additionally, the surplus of grain could influence prices for the other three quarters of grain export trade, pushing down prices and profits as supply grows against demand.

To circumnavigate this requirement, you can send your grain shipments to non-French ports for loading. However, this adds to the freight cost, the transit time, and the carbon footprint of each shipment, which is counterproductive.

How does this affect importers in other countries?

Buyers of grain from France will need to find other alternatives if they cannot import without phosphine fumigation, or face increased costs if the shipments are sent through non-French ports.

Countries in the north of Africa make up a large proportion of France’s grain custom, but will be forced to find another alternative if a solution cannot be reached.

President of the French Wheat and Cereal Producers Éric Thirouin commented on the situation on Sud Radio, stating “these countries will be in critical need of food”.

When asked about how they will be able to survive the situation if there is no improvement, he commented: “In the best of cases, if I may say so, it is Russia which is the world's leading exporter which will supply them”.

French Trade Minister Olivier Becht has assured the community that steps will be taken by the time the legislation comes into effect on April 25th, and that "there is nothing to worry about for exports, these will continue. It's good for our exporters, it's good for food security of these (importing) countries,"

Want to explore contingencies for your grain exports?

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If you need a partner for from a non-French port, or want to discuss how you can navigate the ban on phosphine in grain exports,  for more information.