UK exports more banned toxic pesticides than any other European country

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 11 September 2020

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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A new investigation by Unearthed and Public Eye reveals the United Kingdom approved the export of more than 32,000 tonnes of banned pesticides in 2018./span>

That makes the UK the largest exporter of toxic agrochemicals that are banned in Europe.

Flooding poorer nations

Loopholes in European and international law mean companies remain free to manufacture and export from the EU pesticides that have long been banned from use on EU soil in order to protect human health or the environment. 

This trade has always been shrouded in commercial secrecy. But now a groundbreaking investigation by Greenpeace UK’s investigative journalism unit, Unearthed, and Swiss NGO Public Eye has amassed the most complete record of the EU’s banned pesticide export trade ever to reach the public domain.

The investigation obtained more than 400 documents issued by companies across Europe, showing plans to ship 81,615 tonnes of banned ‘crop protection products’ overseas in 2018.

Almost 40% of planned exports by weight (32,188 tonnes) came from the UK. The next-highest exporter was Italy, with just 11% of planned exports (or 9,350 tonnes).

The news comes after dozens of UN human rights experts this summer issued a call for rich countries to end the ‘deplorable’ practice of exporting banned toxic pesticides to poorer nations. 

Banned weedkiller exported

The vast majority (28,185 tonnes) of the exports notified from the UK were mixtures containing paraquat, a weedkiller that has been banned in the UK since 2007.

Paraquat, which is manufactured in Huddersfield by agrochemical giant Syngenta, is so toxic that just one sip can be fatal, and scientists have found links between repeated exposure to the chemical and Parkinson’s disease.

‘The UK is at the heart of a European pesticide scandal that allows chemical giants to flood other countries – many of them poorer nations – with toxic chemicals, on a major scale. These pesticides are so dangerous that we’ve made the very sensible decision to ban their use in our own country and across Europe. What then, gives us the right to think that it is morally defensible to continue producing and shipping them around the world?

‘Britain should be leading the world by promoting the highest standards, not being the first in line to cash in from selling poison. The UK government must put an end to this exploitative hypocrisy immediately by banning the manufacturing and exporting of all banned pesticides and pressure the EU to do the same and close this loophole for good.’

DOUG PARR
Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist

The intended importers of the UK’s 2018 paraquat shipments included low- and middle-income Brazil, Mexico, India, Colombia, Ecuador and South Africa, where farmers frequently work without protective equipment and governments are often ill-equipped to regulate the use of dangerous chemicals.

Almost half of the paraquat exports (14,000 tonnes) went to the United States – a country where Syngenta is currently facing lawsuits from farmers who allege paraquat gave them Parkinson’s disease.

Brazil, which was the intended destination for 9,000 tonnes of paraquat mixtures from the UK in 2018, is supposed to be reducing use of the chemical ahead of a planned ban in September this year due to its toxic health implications.

The other significant export of banned pesticides notified from the UK in 2018 was up to 4,000 tonnes of the soil fumigant 1,3-Dichloropropene, produced by a subsidiary of the chemicals giant Ineos, majority owned by the billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe. 

1,3-Dichloropropene is classified as a probable carcinogen, but was banned in the EU because of concerns related to consumer exposure, as well as risks of ‘groundwater contamination’ and risks for ‘birds, mammals, aquatic organisms and other non-target organisms’.

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