UK exporting toxic pesticides

Pesticide spraying
UK companies are flooding poorer countries with agrochemicals that are banned in the EU.

Britain should be leading the world by promoting the highest standards, not being the first in line to cash in from selling poison.

The UK approved the export of more than 32,000 tonnes of banned pesticides in 2018, making it the largest exporter of toxic agrochemicals that are banned in Europe, according to data uncovered by an investigation by Greenpeace and Swiss campaign group Public Eye.

Loopholes in European and international law mean that companies remain free to manufacture and export pesticides banned from use on EU soil in order to protect human health or the environment.

But Greenpeace UK’s investigative journalism unit, Unearthed, and Swiss NGO Public Eye have amassed more than 400 documents issued by companies across Europe showing plans to ship 81,615 tonnes of banned ‘crop protection products’ overseas in 2018.


Almost 40 percent of planned exports by weight (32,188 tonnes) came from the UK. The next-highest exporter was Italy, with just 11 per cent of planned exports, or 9,350 tonnes.

UN human rights experts this summer called for developed countries to end exports of pesticides that were banned in their own countries, a practice they called “deplorable”.

Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist, Doug Parr, said: “Britain should be leading the world by promoting the highest standards, not being the first in line to cash in from selling poison.”

The vast majority (28,185 tonnes) of the exports notified from the UK were mixtures containing paraquat, a weedkiller that has been banned in the UK since 2007.


Paraquat is highly toxic, and scientists have found links between repeated exposure to the chemical and Parkinson’s disease.

The exports were headed for countries including low- and middle-income like Brazil, Mexico, India, Colombia, Ecuador, and South Africa, where farmers frequently work without protective equipment and governments lack resources to regulate the use of dangerous chemicals.

Another banned chemical from the UK in 2018 was up to 4,000 tonnes of the soil fumigant 1,3-Dichloropropene, which is classified as a probable carcinogen, and a threat to groundwater quality, birds, mammals and aquatic organisms.

This Author

Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for The Ecologist. She tweets at @Cat_Early76.

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