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Rushed India trade deal could bring ‘spike’ in toxic pesticides in UK food, report warns

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UK consumers could face dramatic increases in ‘Highly Hazardous Pesticides’ (HHPs) in food staples if the government rushes through a trade deal with India. That’s the warning contained in new report from Pesticide Action Network UK, Sustain Alliance and trade expert Dr Emily Lydgate.

The UK wants to negotiate the new Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in record time in order to ‘double trade with India by 2030’. Campaigners warn it is likely to face considerable pressure to water down pesticide standards from the Indian government, which they say “is infamous for lobbying aggressively against protections”.

Behind closed doors 
Whilst negotiations are taking place behind closed doors, the new agreement looks likely to significantly increase food exports from India to the UK. This, the report warns, could see Indian-produced staples with illegally high levels of pesticides, such as rice, wheat and tea, reach the UK.

According to the report, India currently allows the use of 62% more ‘Highly Hazardous Pesticides’ HHPs than the UK, and it tends to allow larger amounts of chemicals to appear in food.

A new trade deal with India could mean an increase in Indian wheat exports to the UK. India allows wheat to contain 50 times the amount of chlorpyrifos than its UK equivalent. Chlorpyrifos was banned for use in the UK in 2019 due to evidence that it can harm children’s brain development.

The report says that in 2021, 200 million tonnes of Indian rice was rejected globally each month for containing pesticide residues that exceeded the legal limits of importing countries. With a relaxation of the rules, this produce could potentially end up on UK shelves, especially since border controls are stretched following the UK’s EU exit.

Watered down 
Josie Cohen, Head of Policy and Campaigns at PAN UK said: “Pesticide regulations aren’t bargaining chips, they are there to protect people’s health. Watering them down to secure a new trade deal would create serious public health risks at home whilst also making our farmers less competitive abroad. Deals of this size typically take years to complete – rushing through negotiations without fully thinking through the consequences is a recipe for disaster.”

Dr Emily Lydgate, Reader in Environmental Law at the University of Sussex, said: “The Indian government has a long record of lobbying to relax levels of permitted pesticide residues, and UK negotiators will inevitably face pressure to weaken domestic regulation.”

Vicki Hird, Head of Sustainable Farming at Sustain said: “This deal could turn significant health risks to the UK public into a competitive advantage for Indian agribusiness over our own farmers.  A deal with one of the world’s largest agri-producers risks undermining the considerable efforts being made to ensure UK farming is more sustainable. We must get the details right.”

A. D. Dileep Kumar, CEO,PAN India warned that weakening pesticide standards in the UK could have “deadly consequences for farmers on the ground in India, where over 30,000 people die each year in pesticide-related deaths.  

In a statement, the UK Government said: We have strict statutory limits for pesticide residue levels on imported food and a robust programme of monitoring. An FTA with India won’t change this – products which don’t meet our requirements won’t be permitted to enter the UK market.

 “Any deal we sign will include protections for the agriculture industry. We will not expose UK farmers to unfair competition or compromise our high standards.

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