What can the UK do to reduce environmental risks from pesticides?

The UK’s action plan on sustainable use of pesticides aims to:

…ensure that pesticides are used sustainably by reducing the risks and impacts of use on human health
and the environment and encouraging the development and introduction of pest management and of
alternative approaches or techniques.

How is the UK doing in relation to this aim?

IEEP and the Pesticide Action Network UK have analyzed the UK’s progress in reducing the impacts of pesticide use on the environment. Since 2001, the UK has taken mainly voluntary and industry led approaches, together with the underpinning regulations that specify correct use of pesticides and equipment.

However, pesticides are still being found in our groundwater and rivers in high concentrations. Metaldehyde for example is a compound found in slug pesticides. It is expensive to remove from drinking water, and water companies are increasingly advising and funding farmers and others to stop using it. The evidence for the wide-ranging effects of neonicotinoid insecticides on UK wildlife is building as well.

Our report funded by the RSPB explored examples of successful approaches to reducing pesticide use in other European countries. In Italy, the regions of Veneto and Friuli are using crop risk insurance to cover pest and disease damage to maize crops. There is a 5% risk that pests can cause significant crop damage, and with the insurance, farmers can avoid using pesticide-treated seeds and establish integrated pest management techniques. France has passed a law to completely phase out the use of pesticides for non-professional use, and both France and Belgium are prohibiting pesticide use in green spaces, forests and public spaces.

The report was written before the Brexit referendum and the UK government’s subsequent commitment to leave the EU and the single market. Leaving the single market opens a number of options to change the way the UK governs the use of pesticides. See our news post or contact the authors for more information: Evelyn Underwood (eunderwood@ieep.eu) or Nick Mole (nick@pan-uk.org).

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