UK citizens and the natural environment are being exposed to potentially harmful mixtures of pesticides. These mixtures appear in our food, water and soil and can affect the health of both humans and wildlife. There is a growing body of evidence that pesticides can become more harmful when combined, a phenomenon known as the ‘cocktail effect’.
Despite this, the regulatory system designed to protect us from pesticides looks at individual chemicals and safety assessments are only carried out for one pesticide at a time. This not only ignores the potential risks to human health associated with pesticide mixtures found on one item (an apple, for example) but also those contained in an entire dish or days’ worth of food. The system also ignores the cocktail effect when it comes to environmental protection, failing to monitor or limit the sum total of pesticide residues to which the environment and wildlife are exposed.
Pesticides appear in millions of different combinations in varying concentrations in our food and landscape. It is arguably impossible to create a system sufficiently sophisticated to be able to assess the full spectrum of health and environmental impacts resulting from long-term exposure to hundreds of different pesticides. The only way to minimise the risk to health and environment is therefore to hugely decrease our overall pesticide use, thereby reducing our exposure to pesticide cocktails.
Our new report, co-authored with the Soil Association, examines for the first time to what extent the cocktail effect is a problem in the UK and the potential impact upon human health and the environment. It describes the failures of our regulatory system to protect us from the cocktail effect and makes recommendations for what needs to change.