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

either convention.

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 data.

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.

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