UK votes to keep highly toxic pesticide

Posted: 21 March 2003

The highly toxic pesticide aldicarb will continue to be used on vegetables in the UK following a decision by European farm ministers. The leading environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth has learned that UK Agriculture Minister, Lord Whitty, voted in favour of the compromise position which allows eight member states including the UK to continue using aldicarb on some vegetable crops for so-called "essential use".

Friends of the Earth pointed out that the decision made a mockery of the EU review of pesticides, which states that "essential use" should not be granted if the substance has harmful effects on human or animal health and should only be allowed where no efficient alternatives exist.

Poisonous pototoes

Aldicarb is used to kill insects and nematodes on crops. It is a highly toxic pesticide and is classified by the World Health Organisation as "extremely hazardous". It works on the nervous system in a similar way to organophosphates. Residues of aldicarb have been found in food exceeding safety levels for young children. It is also potentially very harmful to farmland wildlife and it is estimated that one granule is enough to kill a small bird.

In the UK aldicarb will continue to be authorised for use on potatoes, parsnips, carrots, onions and 'ornamentals' (decorative plants). The "essential use" status has been granted because it was argued that alternatives are not available. Friends of the Earth, however, have challenged that claim pointing out that major retailers in the UK, such as Tesco and Waitrose, have already prohibited its use on potatoes and have found suitable alternatives.

Residues can be reduced by peeling potatoes rather than eating them in their skins, but the UK Government withdrew advice on peeling fruit and vegetables last year. A study by the Pesticide Residues Monitoring Report found that Aldicarb was present in samples of chips from fish and chip shops .

Safer alternatives

Alternatives to aldicarb include other chemical control methods and changes in farming methods, such as crop rotation, and using diverse vegetable varieties.

The decision is good news for pesticide company Bayer who have been promoting their aldicarb-based product 'Temik' with full page adverts in the farming press.

Friends of the Earth real food campaigner Sandra Bell said: "By keeping this highly toxic substance on the market in the UK Lord Whitty has put the interests of the pesticide companies above the interests of consumers and the environment. How can he argue that a pesticide is essential when major retailers have already managed to prohibit its use by their suppliers?

"The review of aldicarb has been going on for years. The Government should have used this time to ensure that safe non-chemical means of pest and disease control were available to farmers."

Source: Friends of the Earth UK (March 19, 2003).