Dutch prosecutor calls for more focus on environmental crime

AMSTERDAM - Tackling environmental crime like the illegal trade in pesticides, manure fraud, and the mixing of harmful substances in fuel oil and soil, must be given higher priority, chief public prosecutor Guus Schram said in an interview with De Telegraaf. Currently there is too little enforcement and investigative capacity for this type of crime, he said.

Environmental crimes can have major consequences for law abiding companies, the environment, and public health, Schram said. Law abiding companies go bankrupt because they cannot compete with those who don't follow the rules. "If companies have harmful substances - such as lead - on site, they must be destroyed or disposed of responsibly, which costs money. To get around that, they mix it into fuel oil on ships, for example, so that they can get rid of it for free. Or contaminated soil is mixed in with clean soil and reused. That causes health damage. It can even contaminate drinking water."

And yet environmental criminals can earn millions, and often only face a small fine when caught, Schram said. "We have experienced that traders import illegal plant protection products in containers with a purchase price of 600 thousand euros from England to the port of Rotterdam," Schram said. "These substances came from China and were not authorized. Insect populations can decline as a result of such harmful substances. The margins can reach more than 500 percent, so that they make millions of euros in profit. In the end they were fined 40 thousand euros, a pittance. It has absolutely no deterrent effect."

The current approach to tackling environmental criminals is too fragmented, he said. "You have customs, the NVWA, ILT, the police with numerous regional environmental teams and the environmental services of the provinces and municipalities and water boards. There is no such thing as a nationwide approach."


And it is time that the national government changes that. "More capacity must be made available and more national management must be organized," Schram said. "If we want to achieve the climate goals, tackling environmental crime is unavoidable. Otherwise you have to pass that on to companies that have always adhered to the environmental rules and to the citizens." 

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