New law will push biocide approval deadline back five years sparking regulatory concerns

A new law is set to extend the timeframe for processing biocidal product applications by five years, prompting concerns that substances restricted in the EU may get “dumped” on the UK, where chemical regulation is “not up to speed”.

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The Biocidal Products (Health and Safety) (Amendment) Regulations 2022, which is currently at the draft stage but is expected to come into force by 31 December this year, would see an extension to the evaluation of resubmitted product applications under the GB Biocidal Products Regulation (GB BPR) until December 2027.

The act, which was put before parliament in October by then work and pensions minister Claire Coutinho, will also see new product applications made over the next five years completed by 2027.

During this time, products can remain legally on the market, which means the biocidal active substances which were due to expire in 2021-22 will now not expire until 2027.

The new act was considered for approval on 2 November by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The regulations are to be made into a statutory instrument under the powers conferred by section 8(1) of, and paragraph 21 of Schedule 7 to, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018(a).

Joel Reland, a King's College London academic who is a research associate at UK in a Changing Europe, described the delay as “indicative of a wider trend where Britain has struggled to get up to speed with managing its regulatory regime for chemicals post-Brexit”.

He said that deadlines for registrations under the GB regime have been “repeatedly delayed”, noting that the chemicals division of the new body is not expected to reach full capacity for another four years as revealed by the National Audit Office in May 2022.

A key concern is that this extension will mean that substances which get restricted in the EU within the next five years will still circulate freely on the UK market.

“This could prompt concerns among GB consumers about being exposed to greater safety risks, especially if those goods are increasingly ‘dumped’ on the GB market after access to the EU is cut off,” said Reland.

The academic also highlighted that the changes will cause a “headache” in Northern Ireland, as businesses will need to ensure they do not import restricted substances from Great Britain which are banned under European legislation (to which NI is bound). This could result in supply chain disruptions.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is responsible for GB BPR and most chemical regulation after Brexit, the reason for this delay is due to the “large number of resubmissions received”.

After the EU transition period ended in 2020, the EU Article 95 list of biocidal active substance suppliers became no longer applicable in England, Wales and Scotland and was instead replaced by the GB Article 95 list under GB BPR.

All of the suppliers on this list were automatically transferred to the GB list, but needed to reapply and submit relevant information to HSE by the end of this year or face being removed from the list.

A HSE spokesperson said: “Britain’s standards on biocides are among the highest in the world – there is no change to the long-standing regulations and no drop in standards.”

There is a multi-regulator approach to biocides not yet registered under GB BPR, which HSE said means regulatory action can be taken if products are identified that pose risks to people or the environment.