Greenpeace investigation reveals how a loophole is allowing UK firms to export 'banned' hazardous agrochemicals to developing countries
An investigation by Greenpeace's Unearthed journalism unit has uncovered exports of 32,000 tonnes of 'banned' agrochemicals from the UK in 2018.
The pesticides have been banned for use on EU soil but Greenpeace says a "loophole" means export of these chemicals to often poorer countries remains not only legal but a thriving industry.
The investigation was conducted in partnership Public Eye and uncovered total exports across the EU of 81,615 tonnes during 2018.
The UK was responsible for almost 40 per cent of total EU exports, making it the largest player in the controversial market ahead of Italy, which is responsible for 11 per cent of exports.
Greenpeace UK's chief scientist, Doug Parr, called on the UK government to close the loophole on the export of restricted pesticides.
"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," he said. "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?"
The chemicals include Paraquat, which is manufactured in Huddersfield by agrochemical giant Syngenta, which Greenpeace alleges is so toxic that as little as one sip can be fatal. Greenpeace says scientists have found links between repeated exposure to the chemical and Parkinson's disease.
Intended importers for the UK's 2018 paraquat shipments included low- and middle-income countries, such as 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.
BusinessGreen has requested comment from Syngenta.
A second pesticide named in the investigation is soil fumigant 1,3-Dichloropropene. The chemical has long been banned for use in the EU and is classified as a probable carcinogen. Risks of "groundwater contamination" and harm to "birds, mammals, aquatic organisms and other non-target organisms" were cited by the EU as reasons for the ban within EU member states.
But the producer of 1,3-Dichloropropene, a subsidiary of chemicals giant Ineos, exported 4,000 tonnes of the pesticide in 2018.
An Ineos spokesperson confirmed that 1,3-Dichloropropene is exported to Japan as part of the Eopean Chemicals Agency's Prior Informed Consent Procedure.
In a statement Ineos said: "It is important to note that the product is still used within the European Union, in countries such as France, Spain and Italy under emergency procedures subject to national approvals, when there is infestation of crops. It is widely used in many other countries other than Japan and the European Union.
"In reality it is the most effective product against plant disease brought on by nematodes, helping to protect vitally important food crops, which is why it continues to be used in Europe. Claims from the manufacturers of products containing 1,3-Dichloropropene as an active substance, confirm significant crop savings of as much as 15 per cent."
As the UK begins to develop its own post-Brexit agricultural and trading regulations, Greenpeace is calling on the government to ensure the export of chemicals that are banned domestically is brought to an end.
"Britain should be leading the world by promoting the highest standards, not being the first in line to cash in from selling poison," said Parr. "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."
A Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs spokesperson said: "Decisions on the use of pesticides are based on careful scientific assessment of the risks - and this will not change after the transition period. We will continue to ensure our high human health and environmental standards are maintained as we implement our own independent pesticides regulatory regime. Chemicals currently banned will not become eligible for use in Great Britain."
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