‘Brexit freedoms bill’ could abolish all pesticide protections, campaigners say

Bill would see 570 EU-derived environmental laws removed at end of 2023, with little time to replace them

The government’s “Brexit freedoms bill” could see all legal protections from pesticides abolished, wildlife campaigners have warned, putting insects, wildlife and human health in danger.

The bill, published a week ago by prime minister Liz Truss’s new administration, would result in all EU-derived laws being removed at the end of 2023, including 570 environmental regulations. The government could retain or amend some regulations, but has not set out plans to do so. Campaigners are worried there is insufficient time to put new regulations in place.

Green NGOs were already concerned by the lack of government action to reduce the harm pesticides cause to the environment, having failed so far to introduce a new national action plan on the sustainable use of pesticides, promised in 2018.

Ministers have also repeatedly overruled the government’s independent expert panel to allow the use of banned pesticides, such as bee-harming neonicotinoids, on an “emergency” basis. Scientists have warned many insect populations such as bees are falling at “frightening” rates that are “tearing apart the tapestry of life”.

Since the publication of the bill, environmental charities representing millions of people have been in revolt over the plan to slash nature protections and potentially remove environmental requirements from the billions of pounds of farming subsidies paid out each year.

“Pesticide use has caused localised extinctions of bee populations and has made our rivers toxic,” said Steve Backshall, president of invertebrate charity Buglife and wildlife TV presenter. “This is a time for our government to protect wildlife and people from pesticide harm. I urge our new government to reconsider removing pesticide regulation.”

Matt Shardlow, Buglife CEO, said: “There will be over 500 pieces of [environmental] legislation removed by the bill. It took three years for the department of environment to get the environment bill through parliament – the idea that we could have 500 new pieces of primary legislation in 15 months is crazy.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The UK upholds strict food safety, health and environmental standards, and our first priority regarding pesticides is to ensure that they will not harm people or pose unacceptable risks to the environment. The UK government has an excellent record on the environment enshrined in law in our landmark Environment Act.”

“Any decision on preserving, repealing or amending retained EU law will not come at the expense of these high standards and we are working to publish an updated UK national action plan for the sustainable use of pesticides.”

Since Brexit, the EU has strengthened its proposals to protect wildlife from pesticides, including reducing pesticide use by 50%. Buglife and dozens of other environmental NGOs resigned from the government’s pesticide forum in 2019, saying the area of land pesticides were used on had soared in the two decades since they joined the forum. The forum has not been replaced.


Damian Carrington Environment editor

The GuardianTramp

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