The Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is seeking views on the sustainable use of pesticides. Hope Valley Climate Action is keen to encourage people to respond in an informed way, so we have prepared this briefing note on the issues. It contains lots of links so you can go further into various aspects, but you can also join our Rewilding Group for a zoom meeting on Wednesday the 17th of February at 7.30 pm when we will be discussing our collective response. Do join us at:
What is a pesticide exactly?
‘Pesticide’ is an umbrella term that refers to a wide range of compounds including herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, rodenticides, molluscicides and nematicides. Pesticides are used in our parks, streets, homes and gardens, but mainly in the growing of agricultural crops. Pesticide products (such as Roundup) consist of active and inert ingredients. The active ingredient is the chemical designed to kill the targeted pest. For example, glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. However, inert ingredients e.g. emulsifiers and solvents often make up the bulk of the product and there is no requirement for pesticide manufacturers to disclose a list of the inert ingredients in their products.
Why should we be concerned?
Risks to human health: Pesticides are used in public areas to control ‘weeds’ with, glyphosate* being the main ingredient in the herbicides used, and there is a risk of contact and inhalation from the spraying of these pesticides. Pesticide residues from agricultural use have been found in our foods, with potential for serious risks to human health.
*In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, part of the UN World Health Organisation) declared glyphosate to be genotoxic (it causes DNA damage), carcinogenic to animals and a ‘probable carcinogen’ for humans.
Risks to wildlife and biodiversity: Pesticides are major contributors to biodiversity loss. They can result in contamination of soils, ground waters, waterways and estuaries having toxic effects on amphibians and other aquatic creatures and organisms. Common weeds are important food sources for insect, bird and animal species. Pesticides including the herbicide glyphosate and neonicotinoids (neonics) insecticides have been shown to be toxic to many living creatures including earthworms, bees, moths and butterflies which are essential to the healthy ecosystems on which we all depend.
Neonicotinoids: An almost complete ban on the three most toxic neonicotinoids was brought into force by EU members in April 2018, but the UK has recently agreed to their use as an emergency measure by sugar beet growers. https://butterfly-conservation.org/news-and-blog/time-to-ban-neonicotinoids-for-good
Neonicotinoids petition: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/news/thousands-sign-petition-against-governments-emergency-authorisation-bee-killing-pesticide
What are the alternatives?
Several UK local authorities have either ceased or are phasing out the use of glyphosate within their urban areas, and have been successfully using safer, cost effective non chemical methods of weed control. Some countries, cities and regions have banned glyphosate use in public spaces, and the EU came close to banning the licensing of glyphosate in 2017, recommending that its use be minimised in parks, public playgrounds and gardens.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM): This encompasses a range of approaches which aim to diversify crop protection and reduce the use of pesticides by utilising alternatives and promoting natural processes, with the aim of only using pesticides as a last resort, if at all.
What action should be taken to reduce pesticide use?
UK National Action Plan (NAP) for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides
This revised plan “covers the next five years and aims to minimise the risks and impacts of pesticides to human health and the environment, while ensuring pests and pesticide resistance are managed effectively”. The NAP outlines how it will support users to develop more sustainable crop protection, amenity management, and garden pest control”. It also
aims to increase uptake of Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
NAP Consultation: Defra is seeking the views of pesticide users, pesticide related industries (including food retail and manufacture), environmental and public health groups, and the general public. Responses must be submitted by 23:59 on 26 February 2021.
“The UK’s previous Plan was woefully weak and therefore failed to drive a significant reduction in pesticide-related harms. Currently it looks like the new plan will continue with ‘business as usual’ so it’s crucial we mobilise to strengthen it”. (Pesticide Action Network)
The Environment Bill: This obliges the government to set environmental targets on a range of areas including biodiversity and water. The Pesticide Action Network is pushing
for the UK to adopt an ambitious pesticide reduction target.
Friends of the Earth policy recommendations on pesticides:.FoE has made a number of recommendations of measures that need to be taken to reduce/eliminate pesticide use: https://policy.friendsoftheearth.uk/sites/files/policy/documents/2019-12/Problem%20with%20Pesticides%20report%20Dec%202019_0.pdf
Pesticide Action Network policy briefing: