‘Toxic soup’: Concerns raised over banned pesticides still permitted for use in the UK

Thirteen highly hazardous pesticides that are banned in the EU are not banned in the UK, an analysis by a charity has found.

Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) has identified 36 pesticides that are no longer permitted for use in the EU but have not been banned in the UK, raising concerns about government commitments to maintaining environmental standards post-brexit. 

The majority of these chemicals (30) were on the market in the EU prior to Brexit , according to the analysis, and have since been removed from the EU market. 

However, since Brexit, it identified that six have been approved in the UK and not in the EU. 

Of the 36, 13 are considered Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs) as per the UN definition, which means they are deemed to pose a “particularly high level of acute or chronic hazard to health or the environment”. 

The list also includes 12 chemicals classified as carcinogens, nine endocrine disruptors (EDCs), eight ‘developmental or reproductive toxins’, two cholinesterase inhibitors, and one classified as acutely toxic. 

Nick Mole from PAN UK described the UK as becoming “the toxic poster child of Europe”. 

He said: “The government has repeatedly promised that our environmental standards won’t slip post-Brexit. And yet here we are, less than four years later, and already we’re seeing our standards fall far behind those of the EU. 

“With UK bees and other pollinators in decline, and our waters never more polluted, now is the time to be taking steps to protect nature. Instead, the government is choosing to expose British wildlife to an ever-more toxic soup of chemicals.”

Another concern the charity raised is that the UK government has granted all pesticides with licences due to expire before December 2023 an automatic extension of three years, due to a lack of capacity to re-approve these licences in time.  

Mole added:“The UK government promised to drive a reduction in pesticide use back in 2018 and yet we’re still waiting for them to take action. 

"The emerging gap between UK and EU pesticide standards is incredibly concerning for our human health and environmental protections, but also for the future of UK agriculture as our standards fall further and further behind those of our largest trading partner.”

A DEFRA spokesperson said: “Very strict regulation only permits the sale and use of pesticides where scientific assessment clearly shows they will not harm people or pose unacceptable risks to the environment. 

“Pesticides have to be authorised for use on the market in GB by our expert regulator, the Health and Safety Executive or by ministers, following those thorough scientific risk assessments. 

“More widely, the Health and Safety Executive is developing a programme to review our pesticide approvals and can take action to review approval at any time if they identify serious concerns.”

A draft UK National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides was published in 2021, however the final version has not been published. 

A HSE spokesperson said: “Divergence between Britain and the EU is an inevitable consequence of our independent pesticides regime – what is not inevitable is a fall in standards.

“Of the substances referenced, six have been approved including one ahead of the EU. The rest are, in the main, currently not in use in any plant protection product approved for supply in Britain and cannot be used unless we specifically authorise them.”