UK exports banned pesticide to developing countries

Paraquat is one of the most toxic pesticides in the world. It causes thousands of acute poisonings each year and is linked to several chronic illnesses, including Parkinson's disease.(1)

Author: Laurent Gaberell, Public Eye, Agriculture expert

It was first introduced onto the market in 1962 and has been described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “the only highly toxic herbicide of the post-war years”. It is on PAN International’s list of highly hazardous pesticides (2) because of its acute toxicity and has been banned in the EU since 2007.

The fact that the UK is exporting paraquat to the rest of the world was reported in the New York Times (3) as recently as December 2016. Syngenta, the largest company in the agrochemical market and the main manufacturer of paraquat, has a manufacturing plant in Huddersfield, from where it then exports the product to the rest of the world. Paraquat is only exported as an active ingredient. It is then formulated in the importing countries.

As a banned pesticide, paraquat falls under the European Union’s Prior Informed Consent regulation (4) and is subject to an export notification procedure (5). Although some of this data is publicly available, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) does not disclose the names of companies and volumes exported. Recently, for the first time, a right to information request granted Public Eye access to this restricted data.

UK exports 41 000 tons of paraquat each year

137 exports originated from the UK, with the remaining 48 originating from Belgium. Since 2015, all EU exports of paraquat have come from the UK. 100% of UK paraquat exports are from Syngenta.

In terms of volume, an annual average of 41 000 tons of paraquat was exported from the UK in 2015, 2016 and 2017. This makes the UK the second largest exporter of paraquat in the world, behind China with over 160 000 tons a year (6).

61 % of UK paraquat exports go to developing countries

Brazil ranks first, importing 2 % of the total volume (an average of 9 000 tons a year), followed by Mexico (10 %, 4 200 tons/year), Indonesia (8 %, 9 500 tons/year), Guatemala (7 %, 8 100 tons/year) and India (4 %, 4 500 tons/year). The US imports 36 % of the total volume, an average of 15 000 tons per year. The high volumes of paraquat exported to Brazil is probably linked to the rise of glyphosate-resistant super weeds. Paraquat is now increasingly used as an alternative to glyphosate, especially in soy cultivation.

The UK is not alone. China recently announced a ban on the sales and use of paraquat by 2020 (7), but is the main exporter of paraquat worldwide. Switzerland was recently accused of exporting atrazine and paraquat to developing countries, while both pesticides are banned within its own borders (8). France has also faced criticism for allowing exports of atrazine (9) which has been banned in the European Union since 2004. It is a known endocrine disruptor and contaminates drinking water.

In a recent report to the Human Rights Council (10), the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Toxic Wastes and the Right to Food stated that "to subject individuals of other nations to toxins known to cause major health damage or fatality is a clear human rights violation". They called on countries to "remove existing double standards among countries that are particularly detrimental to countries with weaker regulatory systems". They recall that "pesticides are responsible for an estimated 200 000 acute poisoning deaths each year, 99 % of which occur in developing countries, where health, safety and environmental regulations are weaker and less strictly applied". The UK should take the lead and end this shocking double-standard. Pesticides that are considered too dangerous for use in the UK should not be allowed to be produced and exported to other countries.



Article published in: Pesticide News. The Journal of Pesticide Action Network UK, issue 109, september 2017.