What are the problems with pesticides in the UK? Print

Picture of tractor spraying pesticides

Pesticides are the only chemicals deliberately made to be toxic and introduced directly into the environment. They are used in agriculture to control insects, weeds and diseases, resulting in higher yields and allowing growers to meet quality standards. Unwanted pesticide residues are ubiquitous and can be found every where in the environment – soil, air and water, in our food and in our bodies.

Pesticides can affect public health

  • Some pesticides are acutely toxic, and can cause death and serious ill health
  • Some pesticides are known to cause cancer or birth defects.
  • Some pesticides - endocrine disruptors - affect hormone systems and may be altering the basis of life, even at very low concentrations.
  • In the UK some people exposed to even small amounts of pesticides suffer severe allergic reactions
  • The drinking water industry spends a significant amount of our money removing pesticides from our water

Pesticides are continuing and acknowledged problem in the environment

  • Many commonly-used pesticides are toxic to aquatic life and their presence in UK rivers is a continuing problem. The environment Agency monitor pesticides in surface water. See Environment Agency: Pesticides in Fresh Waters for more information.
  • Pesticide use is strongly associated with declining populations of farmland birds – both the RSPB and the British Trust for
  • Ornithology have documented this. See the Winter Farmland Birds Survey for more information
  • Other species – plants and insects in particular - are declining because of intensive agriculture, including pesticide use, which results in degradation of habitats. Cereal field margins are priority habitats in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Our dependence on chemical pest control for food production is continuing to increase. Industry figures suggest increasing global sales of pesticides, and data for a number of key individual pesticides in the UK (http://pusstats.csl.gov.uk/index.cfm) show that the use of many of these has risen:

  • Use of chlorpyrifos – an organophosphate - rose in 2004 to almost 200 tonnes
  • In 2004, almost 30 tonnes of aldicarb – one of the most toxic pesticides approved for use in the UK – was used on UK land.
  • 54 tonnes of paraquat – responsible for two fatal poisonings in the UK in 2004/5 – were used in 2004.
  • The use of glyphosate – shown in the recent farm scale evaluations of herbicide-tolerant GM crops to lead to reductions in biodiversity – Increased more than 5-fold between 1993 and 2004.
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