British apple growers could soon have a golden opportunity to claw back market share from overseas rivals as the European Commission prepares to clamp down on pesticides on imported fruit.

Diphenylamine (DPA) is not allowed in the European Union but is widely used by apple growers outside the EU. At present, there is a tolerance level of 0.5 parts per million (ppm) on non-EU fruit, but the EC is proposing to lower this to 0.2ppm at a Standing Committee meeting later this month.

DPA was an extremely persistent chemical, and imported apples treated with it were likely to test positive above the new 0.2ppm level and would therefore no longer be allowed to be marketed in the EU, said Adrian Barlow, CEO for trade association English Apples and pears.

“This could be a great opportunity for the English apple industry to increase its market share,” he said.

The UK imports about 32,000 tonnes of non-EU apples between April and July every year. A clampdown on DPA could enable British growers to replace some of these imports with new late-season varieties, said Barlow. But he warned that the British apple industry would have to work hard to ensure the quality was right.

“It is vital that all growers and marketing companies recognise the absolute imperative of achieving consistently high quality which fully satisfies consumers,” he said. “Just putting on a Union Jack logo is inadequate.”

There was also concern the DPA ban could lead to a shortfall in apple supply to the UK, which would lead to a drop in consumption and loss of shelf space in retailers.

“This would be against the interests of those in the entire apple sector as well as consumers, not least due to the negative impact on the health of consumers,” Barlow said.