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British Government Ignores Calls to Improve Pesticide Regulation

(Beyond Pesticides, December 21, 2010) Despite the urging of over 100 groups, including the British Medical Association, for an overhaul of its pesticide regulations, the UK Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) ruled last week that little action is required. The government was responding to the need to adapt to the European Union (EU) Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides and Regulation on Plant Protection Product Authorizations. The directives, which will take effect at the end of 2011, are aimed at ensuring that EU member states are working to reduce pesticide usage and are taking adequate precautions when chemicals are used, however, they provide little incentive for governments to change their regulatory stance.
Accordingly, DEFRA has deemed existing laws and regulations adequate in addressing the dangers posed by pesticide usage.

There are a number of provisions in these directives that encourage member states to address pesticide usage, requiring such measures as implementing strict guidelines surrounding the sale and inspection of pesticides and application equipment, requiring governments to inform the public about the risks associated with pesticides, limiting or completely eliminating aerial spraying of pesticides, ensuring drinking water supplies and aquatic ecosystems are protected from runoff, and requiring or supporting the establishment of integrated pest management (IPM) systems.

In nearly every instance, except where it was clearly prohibited by the EU directives, the UK government chose to rely solely on existing laws and procedures, ignoring the input it had sought from medical, consumer, and public advocacy groups, which largely declared that existing regulations are far too weak. One of the most contentious elements contained in the pesticide products regulation concerned an optional provision that would require the notification of local residents when pesticides are being applied. Tom Levitt of The Ecologist wrote of this that “DEFRA’s own consultation on the issue admitted that the public believed the current voluntary approach was not working and that public signs indicating spraying had taken place should be compulsory.” However, the agency has deemed notification of the public unnecessary, adding that it encourages farmers and sprayers to “develop good relationships with their neighbors” and only notify them if they choose.

Another key element of the regulation, which brought widespread input from the public, was the minimization or prohibition of the use of pesticides on areas used by vulnerable groups, such as (according to the regulation) “pregnant and nursing women, the unborn, infants and children, the elderly and workers and residents subject to high pesticide exposure over the long term.” This would include areas such as schools, playgrounds, public parks, and sports arenas in addition to the properties of residents who live adjacent to fields that are sprayed. Ignoring strong evidence of the toxic nature of pesticides as well as testimony from the public, DEFRA has stated only that they “do not consider that it is necessary to prohibit the use of pesticides in public spaces or conservation areas or to impose new statutory controls on pesticide use in these areas. We believe that the UK can meet its obligations under the Directive through existing statutory and voluntary control measures and by developing additional voluntary guidance.”

UK pesticide activist Georgina Downs, speaking to The Ecologist, said, “the prohibition of the use of pesticides in the locality of homes, schools, children’s playgrounds, hospitals and public areas is absolutely crucial for public health protection, especially that of vulnerable groups.” She also called it “outrageous” that DEFRA fails to see the need to eliminate pesticides from public areas.

For more information, see DEFRA’s consultation page and the summary of responses, including the government’s decisions on how it will move forward concerning each stipulation of the directives.

In the United States, Beyond Pesticides has long advocated for the minimization and elimination of pesticides everywhere, including from public spaces such as schools and parks. Their toxic nature makes them dangerous to human and environmental health, and successful IPM models have shown that they are unnecessary. Strong regulatory action is needed in order to ensure that these chemicals stay out of our lives. However, regulatory agencies all too often continue allowing dangerous pesticides to be used and need to be pressured to maintain their integrity and to continue to act for the public good. Visit Beyond Pesticides’ Watchdogging the Government page to learn about how we are keeping the regulatory process strong and view our How-To Factsheets to see how to support organic and IPM practices and eliminate pesticides from your home and community.

Source: The Ecologist


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