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Don’t let Brexit mean more dangerous pesticides in our food and environment

Act on Pesticides Don’t let Brexit mean more dangerous pesticides in our food and environment

How could weakened post-EU controls on pesticides affect you? Following the vote for the UK to leave the EU, the government will reassess the rules that govern the use of pesticides in agriculture, amenity and homes and gardens. This could be an opportunity for the UK to take the lead in pesticide legislation by ensuring that the most rigorous, precautionary regulations are put in place to protect us from the potential harm that pesticides can do. Translating current EU rules into UK ones will be a major task and the pressure to remove ‘red tape’ for the farm and food industry is strong. But any changes could have far reaching consequences on the health and well-being of the citizens and environment of the UK. The vocal pro-pesticide lobby would like to see the current legislation and the protection it offers significantly reduced. If they succeed, this could result in:

66 Greater exposure to pesticides that are linked to cancer, reproductive problems and hormone disruption;

66 Higher levels of pesticide residues allowed in the food that we eat;

66 Increased use of pesticides that are highly toxic to bees and other pollinator species

What should happen? Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) is calling for the UK Government to strengthen the current pesticide regime and make the UK a world leader.1 We have set out a list of policy measures that we want the UK to adopt as a new plan to protect British citizens and the environment (see p3). These include introducing new pesticide reduction targets, monitoring regimes, rewards for good practice and disincentives for bad, authorisations based on the precautionary principle, and give preference to less harmful products. But the risk now is that instead of adopting such a plan, the government will weaken pesticide legislation in the UK post EU.

How could weaker rules affect you and your environment? Greater exposure

More pesticides in your food

At present, the UK is subject to the rules and legislation that apply throughout the EU. Whilst not perfect, it is one of the strictest regulatory frameworks for pesticides in the world. It was strengthened in 2009 when the EU moved from a “risk-based” system to a more “hazard-based” system. This new approach means that any pesticide with dangerous characteristics – for example carcinogenic, reprotoxic or hormone (endocrine) disrupting – should be taken out of use. Over 100 pesticides are banned in the EU for health or environmental reasons, and more are likely to be removed from use before we leave the EU – including dozens that are thought to be hormone disrupting.2

Approximately 60% of the fruit and vegetables consumed in the UK contain residues of one or more pesticides.8 The current system of Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) are set for pesticides and food. This means that only a certain amount of any specific pesticide can remain on the food you eat. Some of those levels are set very low and, for any pesticide that is banned from use in the EU, the level is set at zero. This is not a perfect system but it does help to reduce our exposure to pesticides. But some in the UK are pushing for less stringent MRLs to be put in place, and changes to legislation could mean that there would be an ‘acceptable’ level of residues for currently banned pesticides rather than the present zero.

Successive UK governments have opposed strengthening EU pesticide legislation.3 Leaving the EU could see the pesticide industry and its allies persuade the Government to allow harmful substances banned in the rest of Europe to be used in the UK to grow the food we eat and manage our public spaces like parks and playgrounds. For example, the UK is opposed to any ban or restrictions on the use of the herbicide glyphosate – a probable human carcinogen.4 While other parts of the EU are implementing bans on the use of glyphosate the UK government, responding to pressure from the NFU and chemical industry, are fighting any ban.5 The EU is considering introducing a ban on the use of glyphosate by the end of 2017, but if the UK goes its own way on pesticides it could remain in wide use here, needlessly exposing us and our children to a cancer-causing chemical.

“When we leave the European Union, we will put in place our own authorisation procedures,” George Eustice, Defra Minister told farmers in 2016, and promised to switch to a risk-based approach6


“We need more actives not fewer”. NFU senior plant health adviser Emma Hamer7

Greater threats to bees and wildlife In December 2013, the European Commission implemented a partial ban on three bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides.9 Once again the UK government opposed the ban.10 This year, the Commission could decide to make the ban permanent and even extend it to cover some other uses and more pesticides. Highly vocal neonicotinoid supporters in the UK, including the NFU and politicians, want to see the ban overturned. They believe that once the UK is out of the EU it will be possible to overturn decisions that are based on a precautionary approach. This would be a disaster for bees and other pollinators in the UK. We need more precaution, not less, and we need to ensure that those in favour of deregulation do not get their way on this issue. “The NFU has worked relentlessly to submit a robust application and we’re glad to finally see a positive result.” NFU vice president Guy Smith expressing his delight at getting approval from Defra to use a banned neonicotinoid last year.11



PAN UK believes these threats are real, and we need to act quickly to let decision makers and MPs know that we oppose any weakening of the rules. We want them to grasp what is the greatest opportunity in generations: to reduce pesticide use in the UK and make agriculture more sustainable, environmentally friendly and with fewer potential risks for the citizens of this beautiful isle.


Now is the time for the UK to set out a clear vision of a sustainable future for farming, food production and pesticide regulation so the UK can protect the health of its citizens, and become a world leader in environmentally friendly agriculture. We are therefore urging the UK government to adopt the policy measures that we have set out below. For more detail, download Our Toxic Future – Why Brexit is a threat to the health of the people and environment of the UK at

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PAN UK Recommendations 1. Introduce clear quantitative targets for reducing the overall use of pesticides in agriculture. 2. Provide incentives for reducing the use of pesticides and establish a proper monitoring system for pesticide use based on frequency of application. 3. Ensure authorisations are based on a strict interpretation of the precautionary principle; maintain a hazard-based (rather than revert to risk-based) approach to pesticide authorisations; and phase out the most Highly Hazardous Pesticides. 4. Do not authorise, or grant re-approval for, products which pose risks to human or environmental health where safer non-chemical methods are available. 5. Fast track authorisation of less hazardous pest management products such as bio-pesticides. 6. Introduce a Pesticide Levy and use the revenue raised to support programmes to help farmers reduce pesticide use. 7. Establish a new body for monitoring pesticide use and enforcing pesticide regulations which is separate from the body that deals with pesticide authorisations. 8. Introduce strong penalties and robust enforcement to ensure that any contamination of the environment by users of pesticides – including farmers and amenity users – is dealt with firmly and will act as a deterrent to misuse. 9. Create a human health monitoring system for those that routinely work with pesticides, including farmers, farmworkers and amenity operatives, and establish a reporting system for others exposed to pesticides including the general public, farming families and rural residents. 10. Introduce greater transparency to allow independent scrutiny of toxicological and other data prior to authorisation of any active substance or formulation in order to break the undue influence of agrochemical companies 3

Act NOW It is vital that MPs are made aware of your concerns about pesticide regulation. Please take a moment to visit to send a letter to your MP. It will only take a couple of minutes, but will help to make it clear that post-EU, we want stronger, not weaker, pesticide regulation. Thank you For updated news, ongoing actions and other things that you can do please visit

Don’t let Brexit mean more dangerous pesticides in our food and environment

Pesticide Action Network UK PAN UK is based in Brighton. We are the only UK charity focused solely on addressing the harm caused by chemical pesticides. We work tirelessly to apply pressure to governments, regulators, policy makers, industry and retailers to reduce the impact of harmful pesticides. Find out more about our work at:

The Green Hub The Brighthelm Centre North Road Brighton BN1 1YD Telephone: 01273 964230 Email:

Profile for PAN UK

Act on Pesticides  

Don’t let Brexit mean more dangerous pesticides in our food and environment

Act on Pesticides  

Don’t let Brexit mean more dangerous pesticides in our food and environment

Profile for pan-uk