BarthHaas expert says ‘unrestricted’ trade in hops essential for global beer industry
This decade is a constant reminder of how connected we all are on this planet. From the pandemic to supply chain failures, a problem here butterfly-affects a problem elsewhere. During a presentation before the SPS Committee of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva on March 22, Reinhold Kugel, head of product safety and quality assurance for the international hops specialist Barth Haasargued that the global beer industry could face big problems if international plant protection regulations were not harmonized.
The key question in Geneva was how legislated maximum residue limits (MRLs) for food products could be standardized internationally to facilitate safe trade. “More and more countries are introducing lists of MRLs for their domestic markets,” says Kugel, explaining the reason for holding the session at the WTO level. “This is causing more and more problems in global trade. For example, if a pesticide is authorized and used in the country of production but is then subject to a new MRL or even a ban in the country of destination, it is possible that, at short notice, the product concerned is no longer legally marketable even if it is already in a bonded warehouse.
The Committee deals with issues that revolve around the theme of “plant protection and health” and its importance in world trade. The US government invited Kugel to the session, where, as the plant protection representative of the German Hops Industry Association (DHWV), he spoke on behalf of the industry as a whole. Experts from various branches of agriculture as well as specialists in food safety and plant protection participated in this hybrid event.
Losses in millions
In the worst-case scenario foreseen by Kugel, the goods must be destroyed in the importing country or returned to their country of origin. “The losses can run into the millions,” Kugel points out. In the event of a change, most countries provide for transition periods, but these are usually limited to only a few months. “That may be enough for apples or strawberries, but it’s far from enough for hop products, as they can be stored for up to five years or more,” says the expert.
In particular, companies exporting to the European Union are increasingly facing problems. The EU is increasingly lowering MRLs, while the risks and likelihood of their occurrence are no longer taken into account, Kugel criticized. “With this departure from the internationally recognized standard of a risk-based hazard assessment, the EU is very largely alone on the world stage.”
For the agricultural sector – and therefore also the hop growers – this is becoming more and more of a problem, because there are fewer and fewer active ingredients available for plant protection. In order to enable optimal use of available active ingredients and thus to maintain high quality standards, harmonization efforts are now among the most essential activities of the German hop industry association.
Finally, Kugel sums up the magnitude of the impact: “Almost 100% of breweries are dependent on hop imports, which is why unrestricted trade in hops is essential for the global brewing industry.”