Hazardous pesticides still being used in the UK
The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) has launched a ‘List of lists’, detailing pesticides that have been labelled as carcinogenic, or as endocrine disrupters, or which are dangerous in water, and are being banned or phased out in Europe.
The move was part of a ‘world-wide day of no pesticides’ on 3 December, to mark
the anniversary of the Bhopal pesticide factory tragedy in 1984.
Its list includes a number of pesticides that carry acute health risks and
affect the nervous system. PAN claims many of these substances are still found
in food, the environment, homes and gardens. At least 20 of the substances on
the list are potential carcinogens commonly used in UK homes and gardens.
Isoproturon, a commonly-used herbicide which is applied to 3.5 million hectares
of farmland annually, is listed by the EU as a potential carcinogen. Three of
the five most commonly used fungicides in the UK – chlorothalonil, tebucanazole
and carbendazim, may also be carcinogenic.
Residues of potential carcinogens such as malathion, imazalil, ozadixyl and
thiabendazole are also found in foods such as bread and potatoes.
Over the last three years, two pesticide treaties have been agreed: the 1998
Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent and the 2000 Stockholm Convention
on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Both require 50 governments to ratify them to
enter into force, but neither has met this target. The UK has not ratified
PAN noted: “In contrast with the UK, both the US and Sweden keep a closer watch
on potential problem pesticides in farming.”
PAN pointed out that the US Environment Protection Agency monitors the use of
agricultural pesticides that pose the greatest risk to human health, and that
Sweden launched a progressive risk reduction programme in the 1980s that has
reduced pesticide use by 68% with significant health benefits.
“The UK government should be instituting
better surveillance on pesticide exposure through food and the environment,” said PAN director Barbara Dinham.
“Consumers tell us they want more information about pesticides and less residues.
The next step is a progressive pesticide reduction strategy.”
Working out the amount of pesticides used in various countries is not easy. The
Statistics Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United
Nations started collecting data on the consumption of major individual
pesticides products about 30 years ago, but described the responses to the
questionnaire sent to all FAO member countries as ‘not very encouraging’. The
FAO followed up in 1986, in co-operation with the Commission of the European
Union, by undertaking a study to find ways of improving the country coverage of
The FAO’s data is now published in various issues of its Production Yearbook,
but the database refers to the quantity of pesticides used in or sold to the
agricultural sector expressed in metric tons of active ingredients, rather than
information on single crops. The FAO notes that inter-country comparisons are
not feasible because many countries do not return data, and some report in terms
of formulation weight instead of active ingredients.