Voluntary measures to cut pesticide use ‘have failed’, campaigners say

The government’s reliance on voluntary measures to reduce the use of pesticides has delivered “no progress” and should be replaced with “clear legislation” to “regulate the behaviour of all those that use pesticides and allow for those that contravene to be held accountable”, a 45-strong coalition of green groups and charities has said.

In December last year, the government published a consultation on its draft revised UK National Action Plan (NAP) for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides.

The government said that the plan, which will cover the next five years, “aims to minimise the risks and impacts of pesticides to human health and the environment, while ensuring pests and pesticide resistance are managed effectively”.

It said that the revised NAP draft “aims to increase uptake of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and sustainable crop protection, in line with DEFRA’s 25 Year Environment Plan, the Welsh ministers’ Natural Resources Policy, The Environment Strategy for Scotland, and the goals of the Environment Strategy for Northern Ireland to protect and enhance the environment for future generations”.

The consultation closed at the end of last month. Now, a coalition of campaign groups, charities, the Unite union, research bodies, and academics has published a joint response to the consultation.

The response says that “voluntary measures have failed”. It states: “Currently, there is too much focus on best practice and on voluntary measures (e.g via the Voluntary Initiative (VI)), which systematically fall short.

“In the more than 20 years the VI has been in existence, there has been no progress in reducing pesticide use and impact in any meaningful way, and in fact the VI does not list a reduction in pesticide use as one of its key aims. The evidence of the ongoing deterioration of our environment clearly shows that voluntary measures have failed”.

The response says that the introduction of “clear legislation that will regulate the behaviour of all those that use pesticides and allow for those that contravene to be held accountable is vital. This needs to include repercussions of misuse or abuse of pesticides, and clear guidance on use”.

Elsewhere, the response says that the “highest and most effective solution to protect human health and the environment is to drastically reduce pesticide use overall, and truly only use them as a very last resort”. The document adds that the “post-Brexit regulatory system should be built with that vision at the centre, from the outset, in a clear and coherent way”.

The response also flagged a “lack of focus on direction of travel” in the document, “namely that any regulation should be supporting an ambition to reduce use of and harm from pesticides urgently – not facilitating easier use. This NAP should also be setting the scene for future pesticide policy that goes even further, and taking large steps towards it”.

Sarah Haynes, collaboration coordinator at Pesticide Action Network UK, said: “How the UK chooses to govern pesticides will have profound implications for the health of citizens, the natural environment, and the future of UK farming.

“The new NAP is a unique opportunity to set us on a path to a more sustainable and healthy future. And with such high interest and support from the public and civil society, the government now has the backing it needs to produce a strong final NAP which can deliver on its promise to ‘leave our environment in a better state than we found it’. On the flipside, a weak NAP which allows pesticide-related harms to continue unabated will doom the government's environmental aspirations to failure.”

DEFRA was approached for comment but had yet to respond at time of publication.