Agriculture Ministry: CBS report doesn’t take into account significant decrease of pesticides in recent years.

Israeli farmers use the largest amount of active chemical pesticides per agricultural dunam out of all OECD countries, a Central Bureau of Statistics survey has revealed.

The report, titled “Survey of Pesticides in Agriculture 2008- 2010,” sent questionnaires to 90 companies for the purpose of identifying sales and imports of chemical agricultural pesticides approved by the Agricultural Ministry for the years 2008 through 2010, a CBS statement said. Designed to help identify trends and processes of marketing pesticides, the survey looks at both the data of Israel and other comparable countries. Out of all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries, Israeli farmers on average use 3.5 tons of pesticides per 1,000 cultivated dunams (100 hectares), while the next highest number belongs to Japan, at 1.55 tons per 1,000 dunams, according to CBS.

In the years 2008-2010, between 6,600 and 7,300 tons of active ingredient pesticides were purchased or imported each year, the survey said.

Throughout the years, quantities of active materials sold to various destinations rose and fell, with a 9 percent drop from 2008 to 2009 and then a 2% rise from 2009 to 2010. The primary usages of the pesticides are for fungi and bacteria elimination, soil sterilization and the removal of weeds, insects and mites – which together constitute 90% of the reasons these chemical preparations are purchased.

In 2010, 569 chemical preparations were sold, and of these 165 were sold to eradicate insects and mites, 141 to eliminate fungi and bacteria and 129 to destroy weeds, the CBS survey said. Looking particularly at pesticides sold for weed removal, there was a sharp rise in sales of 29% in 2009 but a drop of 11% in 2010. Materials for soil sterilization featured a sharp drop of 26% in the year of 2009 and then an 8% rise in 2010.

The amount of active chemical pesticides used in Israel per 1,000 dunams of agricultural land – 3.5 tons – is significantly higher than that of any other OECD country, with Japan coming in second at 1.55 tons and Holland in third at 0.99 tons, according to the CBS. Looking at the amount of active chemical pesticides used per 1,000 people, Japan takes the lead at 4.95 tons, with Israel in second at 1 ton and Hungary in third at 0.98.

In response, the Agriculture Ministry stressed that monitoring the presence of pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables is performed on a wide range of levels – from on the field to in packaging rooms – and that all produce samples are tested before making their way to supermarkets. Once the food arrives in the markets, it becomes the supervisory responsibility of the Health Ministry.

The current policies of the Agriculture Ministry involve reducing the use of pesticides and in particular old-fashion chemicals like organic phosphates, triazines and chloronated hydrocarbons. In their place, the ministry encourages the use of what it calls “soft” pesticides, which are more environmentally friendly.

“The survey of the Central Bureau of Statistics does not reflect the implementation of these policies in recent years,” the ministry statement said.

From now through 2014, the trend of reduced pesticide use will continue, especially because 30 different chemicals will be banned in this time period, according to the ministry.

Every year, the ministry performs between 600 and 1,000 spot checks of fresh agricultural projects for the presence of pesticide residues, the ministry said. Huge portions of the agricultural products produced in Israel are exported to and accepted by the European market, the East and to the United States, the ministry stressed.

Meanwhile, a comparison between Israel and Sweden, Norway and Finland – all of which achieved very low pesticide numbers on the CBS charts – is unreasonable due to the very different and more challenging growth climate Israel faces in terms of pests, the ministry said.

“The State of Israel is a signatory to the Montreal Protocol, which aims to protect the ozone layer, while limiting the use of harmful substances,” the ministry said. “In recent years, there has been a decline in the use of pesticides, in all types of fruits and vegetables tested. This can be attributed to the activity of increased enforcement and monitoring performed by the ministry.”