Green Brexit doesn’t extend to pesticide protections

The UK is falling further behind the EU in restricting chemicals that pose a risk to human health and the environment, according to a new analysis.

Using the UK government’s GB approvals register and the European Commission active substances database, PAN UK, the Pesticide Action Network, found 36 pesticides that can be used in the UK but are banned in EU countries.

“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,” said Nick Mole, policy officer at the charity.

Of the 36 chemicals, 13 are considered ‘highly hazardous pesticides’ – a UN concept used to identify the most harmful chemicals – including four that are highly toxic to bees, one that contaminates water and one that is highly toxic to aquatic organisms. The chemicals will now be in use in the UK for between two and five years longer than in EU countries, said PAN.

The analysis also revealed a growing threat to human health. The list of 36 pesticides also includes 12 classified as carcinogens, nine endocrine disruptors (EDCs) and eight ‘developmental or reproductive toxins’. 

Thirty of the chemicals in question were allowed for use in the EU when the UK left the bloc on January 31st 2020, but have since been removed from the EU market. The remaining six chemicals have been approved by the UK government since Brexit.

PAN said the divergence in standards is largely down to a UK government decision to grant all pesticides with licenses due to expire before December 2023 an automatic extension of three years. 

Mole said the findings are not only concerning for human health and the environment: UK food exports containing pesticides that EU growers aren’t allowed to use are “likely to be rejected”, he warned. “Given that the EU still accounts for around 60% of UK agricultural exports, the impact on farmers could be devastating.”

A Defra spokesperson told Ends Report that “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. 

An HSE spokesperson added: “Divergence between Britain and the EU is an inevitable consequence of our independent pesticides regime – what is not inevitable is a fall in standards.”

A draft UK National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides was published in February 2021. The final plan was due last year but is yet to appear.

The UK government has been under fire in recent weeks for what campaigners perceive as a move to water down various green commitments.

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