The UK Is Using Brexit to Quietly Undermine Pesticide Restrictions

The transfer of agricultural safeguards from European Union regulation to British regulation during the U.K.’s exit from Europe was supposed to be a simple copy-paste job. But a new analysis of pesticide regulations finds some of the EU’s checks and balances are completely missing from proposed British laws.

The UK Trade Policy Observatory analysis — conducted by researchers at the University of Sussex, among others — has found significant departures in the post-Brexit law.

While the U.K. will maintain bans on certain chemicals, the researchers noted there is no blanket ban on endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which can potentially cause cancer. And perhaps most significantly, there is a change from what is known as Europe’s “precautionary principle.” The principle means new pesticides are considered a safety risk until they are evaluated by an outside research team and evidence has clearly demonstrated they are safe.

On several occasions, Europe has fallen short of this precautionary standard. But it is a policy threshold that has served to protect the general public. Its removal would, in some senses, bring the U.K. more in line with agricultural policies of the United States.

“While the stated aims of the EU Withdrawal Act was to bring existing EU pesticide regulations into UK law without major changes to policy, our analysis reveals that there are significant departures from EU pesticides legislation,” Dr. Emily Lydgate, senior lecturer in environmental law at the University of Sussex and a fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory, said in a news release. “The new legislation consolidates powers to UK ministers to amend, revoke and make pesticide legislation, and weakens both enforcement arrangements and the requirement to obtain scientific advice.”

Specifically, the analysis outlines how “EU law requires independent scientific advice on new pesticides from the European Food Safety Authority and the integration of scientific assessments into approval processes.”

“As part of the consolidation of authority with UK Ministers, this requirement is watered down significantly: Ministers assess the risks and only have to consider scientific evidence at their discretion,” according to the analysis.

The removal of these barriers is interesting on several fronts — particularly for trade. We know the U.K. wants to open trade lines with North America in a more meaningful way, but the North American market allows for the use of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (there is no outright ban on their presence in pesticides) and has characterized the EU ban as being irrational and a needless barrier to trade.

By removing this ban, it’s possible the U.K. could more easily navigate a trade deal with North America. It is unclear whether that is the impetus behind removing the ban. But in the wider context it is noticeable these changes would appear to please the North American markets of Canada and the United States.

The reasons why these changes have not been given more scrutiny until now come down to the nature of Brexit itself. The government is drafting literally thousands of pages of legislation. Normally, such significant changes to agricultural policy would need to be put before the U.K.’s Parliament and be voted on individually.

However, because Brexit is time sensitive, the withdrawal agreement will be voted on in its entirety. That means if the government wanted to, it could put in changes and hope the package deal gets through simply because, after such a protracted fight, ministers need a deal to get U.K. politics moving again.

The government said the translation of EU law to British law would only be a technical one without any substantial changes. But the analysis underscores several areas where there is a noticeable weakening of safety standards and a departure from the hazard-avoidance approach the EU uses to safeguard the general population.

The U.K. government appears to dismiss these concerns. “We will maintain the robust regulation of pesticides as we leave the EU, prioritizing the protection of people and the environment,” according to a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs statement in The Guardian. “As always, we will continue to make all decisions on pesticides based on the best scientific evidence, following advice from the independent expert committee on pesticides.”

The U.K. cannot be allowed to walk back on its environmental commitments by using Brexit as a chance to circumvent meaningful scrutiny in Parliament. To do so is undemocratic and underhanded. And it certainly is not something the general public voted for in either the Brexit referendum or in subsequent elections.

Photo credit: mladenbalinovac/Getty Images

51 comments

Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan Hill2 days ago

thanks

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heather g
heather g4 days ago

I hope that all those who voted for Brexit, live to regret it

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Pam Bruce
Pam Bruce5 days ago

This is so not right. But this is not happening in just UK but world wide. We try to protect the environment but laws get broken all the time. Look at the honey bee situation in the US. Trump doesn't give a damn.

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Diane E
Diane E16 days ago

No toxic pesticides please. No bees, no food. Don't kill pollinators.

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Jacob S
Jacob S17 days ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Andy T
Andy T19 days ago

With Michael Gove as Environment minister what did anyone expect? Vacuous policies on the "Blue Belt" whilst doing nothing about trophy hunting and now this.
One industrial "food washing plant" is, apparently, poisoning a stretch of chalk stream in Hampshire. Needless to say the firm is operating within the guidelines and the boundaries of the law in dealing with washing chemicals off of salad stuff and cooperating to improve. Meanwhile the products are sold through a number of supermarket chains, all boasting environmental responsibility, and the wildlife in the river suffers from the chemical run off originating from pesticides and organic fertilisers applied to the growing foodstuff. Add that to farm run off and a rising crisis is easy to predict.
Backdoor increases in pesticide use we don't need.
Have we learnt nothing from the 60's when Rachel Carson and Cesar Chavez stood more or less alone on this matter and were proven scientifically correct?

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Diane E
Diane E21 days ago

Thanks. We need to put up robust resistance.

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Sophie L
Sophie L25 days ago

thanks for posting

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Leo C
Leo C27 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Chad Anderson
Chad A28 days ago

Horrible.

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