Brexit and pesticides: UK food and agriculture at a crossroads

Brexit and pesticides: UK food and agriculture at a crossroads

Josie Cohen, Nick Mole & Keith Tyrell

It is easy to view pesticide regulation as a technical matter which only affects farmers. But the way the UK chooses to govern pesticides after Brexit will have profound implications for the health of UK citizens and the natural environment for generations to come.

EU pesticide regulations are widely considered to be the strongest in the world in terms of protecting human health and the environment. But they are not perfect. With Brexit looming, there is an opportunity for the UK to reshape its relationship with pesticides. It could choose to mirror or even surpass the standards of EU pesticide rules. On the other hand, it could bow to the pro-pesticide lobby and use Brexit as an opportunity to deregulate. This would allow a greater variety and larger quantity of harmful pesticides to be used, thereby putting the environment and the public’s health at risk.

This detailed Food Brexit Briefing explores the paths the UK could follow at this critical juncture. It examines whether it is equipped to take on the functions hitherto performed by the EU, and looks at how future trade deals – with countries with weaker pesticide standards ­– could undermine attempts to maintain domestic standards after Brexit.

The Briefing recommends that the Government should:

  • Design and implement new systems, or strengthen existing systems, to carry out all functions pertaining to regulating pesticides previously performed by EU institutions.
  • Ensure that no weakening of UK pesticide regulations occurs as a result of trade negotiations.
  • Maintain the EU’s hazard-based approach (rather than revert to a risk-based approach) to pesticide regulation.
  • Introduce a clear, quantitative target for reducing the overall use of pesticides in agriculture.
  • Create a new government body to support Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques.
  • Introduce a pesticide tax to drive reductions in pesticide use and fund research, development and innovation.

About the authors

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Josie Cohen

Josie joined Pesticides Action Network UK in June 2017 to head up the organisation’s UK campaigning, policy and communications work. She studied politics at university and has spent the last fifteen years working as a campaigner for a range of organisations including the League Against Cruel Sports and Save the Children UK. For the past eight years she has focused on social, environmental and human rights issues associated with large-scale agriculture, leading ActionAid UK’s biofuels campaign and working on land rights for Global Witness.

Nick Mole - PAN UK Policy Officer2

Nick Mole

Nick joined PAN UK in March 2007 as the UK and European Programme Coordinator. At university Nick studied environmental science focussing on hydrology, water quality and environmental hazards. Prior to joining PAN UK Nick spent six years working for the Environmental Investigation Agency as a campaigner, working on a diverse range of issues relating to investigating and exposing the illegal trade in endangered species.

Keith Tyrell - PAN UK Director

Keith Tyrell

Keith started at PAN UK as Director in May 2010. Keith has over 20 years’ environmental experience. He was previously the Director of Programmes and Research at the Koru Foundation – a charity that supports community scale renewable energy projects in the developing world. He spent eight years working on UK and EU environmental policy at the ENDS Report where his last role was Climate and Energy Editor. He has extensive experience of working with grassroots organisations and ran the European arm of a three-year international research and advocacy project for WWF. He holds a Doctorate in Development Studies, and MA in Environment Development and Policy from the University of Sussex – both of which involved research into pesticide use.

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