pesticide organic

Differing pesticide rules mean the UK could end up damaging the Amazon by forging closer trade ties with Brazil

Campaign groups have warned the government it risks “contributing to the destruction of the Amazon” if it boosts trade with Brazil, where “pesticide standards are far weaker than those of the UK”.

According to a new report by NGOs Pesticide Action Network UK and Sustain, any future UK-Brazil trade deal would likely see increased British imports from Brazil, in turn fuelling the use on Brazilian farms of chemicals banned in the UK.

Brazil is one of the world’s leading agricultural exporters and a leading source of coffee, sugar and meat. But it is also the world’s third-biggest pesticide user, after China and the US, according to statistics collated by the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data.

Brazil’s agri-business output “has been linked with deforestation and highly hazardous pesticides which harm wildlife and ecosystems”, said Emily Lydgate, deputy director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory and a co-author of the report.

Brazil “allows highly hazardous pesticides”, according to the report, which listed “the lethal herbicide paraquat” as well as “bee-toxic neonicotinoids” among the sprays used. 

“When compared to Brazil, the UK takes a more precautionary approach to which pesticides are allowed to be used, approving just 73 Highly Hazardous Pesticides compared to Brazil’s 131,” the report outlined.

The UK, which in December approved the use of neonicotinoids to prevent disease in domestic sugar beet, already imported soya from Brazil, some of which was grown on deforested land using other chemicals deemed off-limits in the UK, the report pointed out.

The soya was mostly used to feed cattle, with British consumers in turn largely unaware “that some of the meat they’re eating has been fed on soya grown using highly toxic chemicals”, according to Vicki Hird, sustainable farming campaign co-ordinator at Sustain.

“Brazil’s overuse of highly toxic pesticides is contributing to the destruction of the Amazon and other crucially important ecosystems, contaminating water and poisoning farmworkers and communities,” said Josie Cohen, head of policy and campaigns at Pesticide Action Network UK. 

Last month UK trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said she was “delighted” to have met her Brazilian counterpart Roberto Fendt, saying there were “real opportunities to go further on green trade and boost jobs through clean growth”.

The UK has signed a post-Brexit trade deal with Australia and has agreed a similar arrangement with New Zealand. Formal talks have started with India, which like Brazil, Australia and New Zealand is a major producer of agricultural commodities.

The UK announced a tariff-free quota for imported raw cane sugar in 2020, with Brazil quickly emerging as the leading supplier.

The quota, which was recently extended to 2024, has been vehemently opposed by British Sugar, which relies on domestic beet, and by the National Farmers’ Union, which said lower production standards in Brazil and elsewhere would undercut British growers.

Food “containing pesticide residues which exceed UK safety limits is currently banned from entering the UK market”, according to the PAN/Sustain report.