Despite assurances that the UK would maintain the same environmental standards as the EU post-Brexit, it has fallen short by failing to prohibit the use of 36 pesticides that the EU has banned. This divergence has raised concerns, with campaigners labelling the UK the “toxic poster child of Europe.”
The UK’s departure from the EU has seen instances of regulatory divergence, undermining commitments to uphold environmental standards. Recent research by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) indicates that the UK is not phasing out pesticides harmful to human health and the environment at the same rate as the EU.
Out of the 36 pesticides, 13 are classified as highly hazardous under UN criteria used to identify the most harmful substances. Four of these pose a significant threat to bee populations, one contaminates water, and another is highly toxic to aquatic organisms.
When the UK left the EU in January 2020, 30 of these pesticides were allowed for use in the EU, but have since been banned by the bloc. The remaining six have been approved by the UK government but not by the EU.
Nick Mole, from PAN UK, said: “The UK is becoming the toxic poster child of Europe. The government has repeatedly promised that our environmental standards won’t slip post-Brexit. And yet here we are, less than four years later, and already we’re seeing our standards fall far behind those of the EU. With UK bees and other pollinators in decline, and our waters never more polluted, now is the time to be taking steps to protect nature. Instead, the government is choosing to expose British wildlife to an ever-more toxic soup of chemicals.”
Of these chemicals, 12 have been classified as carcinogens, nine as endocrine disruptors that interfere with hormones and have links to infertility, and eight are developmental or reproductive toxins associated with fertility issues. Two act as cholinesterase inhibitors, impacting the respiratory system, and one is categorised as acutely toxic.
One factor contributing to this divergence is a new UK licensing regime for these chemicals. The UK government granted automatic three-year extensions to all pesticides with licenses expiring before December 2023. Previously, all pesticides had a maximum license duration of 15 years before requiring reapproval.
PAN is urging the UK government to align its standards with those of the EU to safeguard human health, the agricultural sector, and the environment. Ensuring consistency with EU regulations can help mitigate the risks associated with the use of these pesticides and reaffirm the UK’s commitment to environmental protection and sustainability.
Mole said: “The emerging gap between UK and EU pesticide standards is incredibly concerning for our human health and environmental protections, but also for the future of UK agriculture as our standards fall further and further behind those of our largest trading partner. UK food exports containing pesticides that EU growers aren’t allowed to use, are likely to be rejected. Given that the EU still accounts for around 60% of UK agricultural exports, the impact on farmers could be devastating.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: A Defra spokesperson said: “Very strict regulation only permits the sale and use of pesticides where scientific assessment clearly shows they will not harm people or pose unacceptable risks to the environment. Pesticides have to be authorised for use on the market in Great Britain by our expert regulator, the Health and Safety Executive or by ministers, following those thorough scientific risk assessments. More widely, the Health and Safety Executive is developing a programme to review our pesticide approvals and can take action to review approval at any time if they identify serious concerns.”
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