Why are pesticides banned overseas still used in Australia and what does it mean for the environment?

2022-07-11

Environmental campaigners in the UK have expressed concern that a trade deal could result in the importation of Australian food that is produced with pesticides banned there.

The Australia-UK free trade agreement, which was signed last December, has been criticised in the UK as being too liberalised on pesticides. A bill to implement the trade deal has not yet been passed by the UK parliament.

Josie Cohen of Pesticide Action UK told the Guardian last week that Australia uses toxic pesticides that are banned in the UK on health and environmental grounds. “They also permit residue levels many times more than in the UK,” she said.

According to the organisation, Australia authorises the use of 144 highly hazardous pesticides, compared with 73 permitted in the UK.

How do Australia’s pesticide regulations differ from the UK, what pesticides are used in Australia but banned overseas, and what health and environmental impacts do they have?

Banned overseas, permitted in Australia

All pesticides approved for use in Australia are regulated by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA). Certain pesticides that are available in Australia are no longer in use overseas.

For example, paraquat, a herbicide used since the 1950s, has been banned in more than 50 countries including the UK. Research has linked it to negative impacts on aquatic ecosystems and it is highly toxic to humans. But in Australia paraquat has been under review by the APVMA since the 1990s and is still used commercially.

A class of substances called neonicotinoids have been used on Australian crops – including cotton, canola and fruit and vegetables – since 1994. Common neonicotinoid substances have been banned in the EU and UK, and restricted in the US and Canada, out of concern for negative impacts on insects – specifically European honeybee populations.

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The Guardian, 11-07-22
; https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/jul/11/why-are-pesticides-banned-overseas-still-used-in-australia-and-what-does-it-mean-for-the-environment