Cairo – An illiterate Egyptian farmer cannot tell the difference between a sound insecticide container whose import is approved by the Ministry of Agriculture and ineffective smuggled and counterfeit pesticides.
Using pesticides that contain unknown materials and impurities that remain as residues in agricultural products also cause serious health problems among Egyptian consumed in addition to causing losses to overall output of farm produce.
Dr. Usama Bdeir, advisor to Al-Ard (the land) Center for Human Rights, describes the process of selling and dealing in agricultural pesticides in Egypt as “chaotic, with poor control”. This starts with the process of importing prohibited pesticides by businessmen who often form a “secret mafia”, according to him. And it continues with fake or ineffective pesticides that are processed in “Beir El-Sillam” factories and distributed secretly to farmers in the absence of any control system.
The use of these pesticides cause an increase in the levels of residue in agricultural products that settle in the soil, causing effects that last for at least ten years. In addition, these pesticides seep onto underground water that is recycled and mixed with a certain ratio of fresh water to be used for irrigating agricultural land, increasing levels of soil and agricultural pollution.
In a study entitled: “Duping and Smuggling Pesticides in Egypt”, Dr. Samir Al-Deeb, pesticides chemistry professor at the Faculty of Agriculture at Alexandria University, says conflicting ministerial decisions have exacerbated the question of using illegal pesticides.
After former agriculture minister Yousef Wali issued a decision to prohibit 47 common brand names, including 162 types of insecticide and 42 raw materials in decisions number 3059 and 3060 in 2004, he granted ministry advisor, Yousef Abdul Rahman, the right to import pesticides through the agricultural stock exchange. He was later convicted in a case termed by the media as the “carcinogenic pesticides case”. When engineer Ahmad Al-Laithi became minister, he issued decision number 719 in 2005 prohibiting again the trading of these pesticides inside Egypt.
This conflict in issuing decisions, according to Dr. Al-Deeb, “opened the door wide for fraud and smuggling of pesticides into Egypt.”
The Egyptian farmer believes that prohibited pesticides represent an effective treatment for combating agricultural pests, opening the local market to smuggled pesticides brought from neighboring countries by gangs, or for processing counterfeit imitations at Beir Al-Sillam factories.
The adulteration of pesticides in Egypt is not restricted to specific brands. During a workshop held in mid 2010 for a number of representatives from government agencies to discuss ways of combating the smuggling and processing of adulterated insecticide. The main smuggled pesticides that had entered Egypt recently were identified as Mortin, produced in Jordan, Capitan 50% – powder that is soaked in water and distributed by a Tunisian company, Didomil granules that are capable of spreading with water, Tupik, an herbicide and Topsin, a Chinese-made fungus insecticide.
In 2010, a European Union mission monitored the rate of residues in Egyptian products exported to European markets. Taking 200 samples from 22 products exported to the EU, it found out that they have higher concentrations of pesticides than what is permitted back home.
Members of the EU scientific team blamed their findings on the lack of sufficient legislation to protect agricultural products in Egypt, in addition to failure in trade and distribution laws and the absence of monitoring and control of the sale of local agricultural products that are saturated with prohibited and hazardous pesticides.
This reporter started his search for counterfeit products and internationally prohibited pesticides in Egypt at “Madinat Al-Hamam” in Marsa Matrouh governorate.
Inside one of the insecticide shops, canisters in different geometrical shapes were lined up on shelves. The store owner accepted to talk on condition of anonymity.
The trader took out from among the store shelves counterfeit canisters of products from Egyptian and foreign companies, and placed them next to original canisters. They looked the same.
Some of these canisters did not carry any information such as date of production and country of origin. The store owner said: “There are many ways to imitate these canisters or to cheat, including collecting empty canisters from farms and re-filling them with materials that look like the original product, or placing on them stickers of the manufacturing companies whose products are allowed into the Egyptian market. Original canisters are sometimes opened to add other materials such as kerosene, or to mix the product with talc powder and other similar chemicals, rendering the product ineffective. In addition, some companies import internationally prohibited pesticides and package and distribute them secretly.
There was substantial difficulty in tracing canisters with counterfeit pesticides or internationally prohibited pesticides. But a small news item on in a local newspaper on the busting of a secret underground store on the Cairo-Alexandria desert road, containing 27 tons of prohibited pesticides, provided a clue to trace the illegal trade in prohibited insecticide in Egypt.
According to criminal case number 3913 in 2009 in Wadi Natroun, one of the companies ran a warehouse near Radwan farm on the Cairo–Alexandria highway.
When the police raided the area with a number of inspectors from the Central Laboratories for Pesticides, they found the driver of a loader bulldozing large amounts of sand to conceal a gate leading to a large underground storage at the end of the farm. During the investigation, the loader driver said that “the farm owner and the guards asked me level the ground and to cover the features of the underground storage building so that nobody can find it.”
Police investigations revealed that an engineer working for the Central Laboratories for Pesticides had tipped off the farm owner about the time of the raid. The inspectors cleared the sand and found a metal door leading to a 500 square meter underground storage area housing large quantities of counterfeit and banned pesticides, including the highly toxic “Timic”, prohibited in Egypt. The committee also found large quantities of fake and imitated “Granstar” insecticide, in addition to a number of metal drums filled with an unidentified material and a number of sacks filled with a “wetting agent” that is not registered at the Ministry of Agriculture, according to the committee’s report.
During the investigations, the farm accountant denied any knowledge about the banned findings. “I know nothing about the pesticides. I am just an accountant. The farm is owned by Ahmad Kamal Radwan, and the manager in charge is called Hussam. I do not know the rest of his name.” He added that the farm was managed by a Cairo-based company called ICM – International Center for Marketing.
During the case proceedings, the defendants’ team submitted a request to the Wadi Natroun Public Prosecutor emphasizing that his client, Hussam Abdul-Qawi, whose name was mentioned in the accountant’s testimony, had rented the farm and was the owner of the confiscated goods, not Ahmad Kamal Radwan. He presented the farm’s lease document from 2008 to 2011 – stating it is in the name of the accused not his client.
The Wadi Natroun criminal court, headed by judge Mahmoud Al-Sharbini, acquitted the two defendants and confiscated the materials. The court decision was based on the provisions of article 304/1 of the law on criminal procedure and lack of seriousness of the investigation by lieutenant colonel Sami Izzat, who first said the farm was owned by Ahmad Kamal Radwan. Second defendant, Husam Abdul-Qawi, presented a lease contract rendering all pre-trial investigation procedures null and void.
The company tried to retrieve the confiscated materials. The second defendant in the case, Husam Abdul-Qawi submitted an invoice indicating that he had bought the unknown material from the International Marketing Center, owned by “Husam Al-Shafi’e”, one of the partners whose name appears in its commercial records. He also showed an import license issued by the general directorate for approval of imports at the Ministry of Health to get supplies from China.
The court refused to allow the company to receive the confiscated materials based on article 30 of the penal code, asserting in its decision, a copy of which was obtained by this reporter, that “it is proven that the materials confiscated in the case include prohibited materials, and also include counterfeit materials that are not licensed for use or trading”. This criminalizes the action of owning the materials, hence, allowing the court to confiscate those materials.”
This reporter started to trace the company to check whether it was operating legally. The start was at the chemical industries bureau in Cairo, where records showed that the names of those involved in the case were company members. After submitting an application to the General Directorate of Investment and Free Zones, this reporter obtained five commercial records for a number of companies and factories in industrial estates owned by the same owners in the Bader, Al-Sadat, and Al-Isma’iliya Free Zone. They were signed and stamped with the Directorate’s seal as companies manufacturing public health pesticides, detergents and dealing with import/export.
Commercial records revealed the relationship between the defendants in the case. The first defendant, Ahmad Kamal Radwan, owner of Al-Radwan farm, where the pesticides were confiscated, is himself the owner of the ICM, established in 1997. In 2003, he left the company and introduced Husam Abdul-Qawi, the farm’s manager as partner in solidarity with a 5% share – with rights to manage, to sign and to represent the company – thus bearing legal responsibility for the company.
One source, who requested anonymity, emphasized to this reporter that ICM among the largest private companies in Egypt dealing with importing public health pesticides and detergents for hospitals run by the Ministry of Health. It has practiced these activities after obtaining official approvals from the Ministry of Health, including importing chemicals from China.
It was difficult to enter any of the company factories to see how company processes the chemical and insecticide products. But the company owners had been accused in case number 686 in 2007 after one of the company factories was caught manufacturing counterfeit and prohibited pesticides at the Bader Industrial estate, records of the interior ministry show.
The factory covers an area of 320 square meters. It has sections for blending and packaging chemicals, a printing machine for labels and eight storage areas for raw materials and packaged goods.
The report on the raid was prepared by the naval police. A copy obtained by this reporter showed the presence of large quantities of internationally prohibited chemicals produced by the factory, such Danitol 20% and Abamaktin 10%.
The Central Laboratory Committee for Pesticides at the Ministry of Agriculture who accompanied the naval police force, discovered large quantities of counterfeit pesticides such as “Knefdor 20%”.
The Central Laboratory committee could not take stock of the huge quantities of canisters and imitated labels for local and international insecticide production companies that are printed at the factory. In its report, the committee mentioned that all the confiscated pesticides were not registered at the Ministry of Agriculture, and thus are banned in line with decision number 3059 for the year 2004 and the ministerial decision number 017 of 2005.
Statements given by Husam Abdul Qawi, the manager whose name was involved in the “secret warehouse case”, showed some of the methods used by insecticide companies who import raw materials into Egypt. He stated that “I am responsible for the company’s dealing with the Ministry of Health, for entering tenders issued by the Ministry and for importing raw materials that are used in manufacturing public health pesticides after obtaining the ministry’s approval”. According to a report of the Central Laboratories Committee for Pesticides, the factory produces counterfeit agricultural pesticides.
The company’s manager presented the public prosecution with official documents to prove the Ministry of Health’s supervision over the company. This comprised a letter issued by the Ministry of Health indicating that the Department of Landscaping and Pesticides is the party responsible for releasing, monitoring and inspecting the pesticides.
Attached to the letter were approvals issued in favor of the company after testing samples of its products, in addition to import approval by the National Agency for Monitoring Pharmaceutical Research, vital for custom’s clearance of imported raw materials to manufacture public health pesticides as approved by the Department for Landscaping and Pesticides at the health ministry.
Other attached documents showed import orders in favor of both the Egyptian Ministry of Health, being one of the major parties operating in the field of manufacturing public health pesticides used in combating insects and mice, and for the Suez Canal Commission, Civil Aviation Ministry and the General Agency for Sewage Facilities of Greater Cairo.
According to papers presented by the company, the factory obtained approvals from the City of Bader Development, the Public Industrialization Agency, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Environment Affairs System and from the Central Department for Assessing the Environmental Impact. Furthermore, the company is member of the Chemical Industries Bureau.
Selah Suleiman, professor of chemistry and material toxicity at Alexandria University says there are three parties responsible for registering pesticides in Egypt. They are the Central Laboratory Committee for Pesticides at the Ministry of Agriculture, the Pesticides Committee formed by the medical veterinarian sector at the Ministry of Agriculture and the Central Laboratory Committee for Pesticides at the Health Ministry. Further compounding the problem is that there are public health or veterinarian pesticides that enter Egypt and are used in preparing agricultural pesticides, and vice-versa.
Dr. Suleiman added that the potent raw materials used in manufacturing public health or agricultural pesticides are the same, but the preparation and concentration methods and the use instructions are different. For example, public health pesticides manufactured to combat domestic insects (flies and cockroaches) are the same pesticides that are used in combating the fruit fly or the field roach, with a difference of concentration. If the use is agricultural, the concentration of the potent material is higher and the user directions are different. But if these pesticides are to be used in the field of public health, the concentration will be reduced because they will be used by humans and inside houses.
The European Commission and the US Environmental Protection Agency have set conditions and specifications for pesticides used in agriculture and those used in the field of public health.
Dr. Suleiman demanded that there be one national committee to register and to follow up on dealing in pesticides in Egypt, similar to the system implemented in many countries around the world. He further pointed out that he had submitted a request to Agriculture Minister Amin Abaza and to Hatem Al-Jamal, the Minister of Health, suggesting the establishment of a national committee under the supervision of the Council of Ministers. The committee should also include members from the ministries of Agriculture, Health and the Environment. However, the request remains held up at the Ministry of Health.
Faced with the reports by the Central Laboratory Committee for Pesticides, the citation report and documents presented by the company, the court seconded environmental expert Mohammad Said Badawi, professor at the National Research Foundation to prepare a two-page report. He said that the factory is producing expired pesticides such as “Malafo’s” and others without registration certificates such as Codicil, Catherine, Asikis, Loran 48%, Oxy and Goldenberg.
The letter presented by the Ministry of Health did not include a list of pesticides that the company is licensed to produce, to help compare it with the list of pesticides that the company is producing at the factory. The report pointed out to the confiscation of unknown materials. As for the pesticides that the factory claimed are related to public health and thus fall under the supervision of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Bandai emphasized that they are Marathon, Dias none, Chlorpyriphos, Deltamethrin and others used in combating farm insects.
Dr. Badawi’s report concluded that the company is producing expired pesticides and others without registration certificates, in addition to producing pesticides whose production and trade are prohibited inside Egypt, using materials of unknown source of origin/production.
He found out that the company had broken the law, is considered as a source for polluting the environment with hazardous material, and that its present location is not suitable and should be relocated to a separate building.
Facing the report of Dr. Badawi and other documents proving the violations committed by the factory, the company lawyer requested that the case be transferred to an expert at the Ministry of Justice. But Nafisa Abul-Saud, the justice ministry expert who got the case, sent a letter of apology to the court because she is not specialized in the field of pesticides. She requested the use of a specialized expert. For four years, the case continues to bounce between the court and experts of the justice ministry while IMC continues to perform its activities. It also took part in the Sahara International Agricultural and Nutrition Exhibition held October 23-26, 2011.
This report was completed with the support of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) and under the supervision of Amr Al-Kahki.