There are fears that the imminent UK-India trade deal will compromise food safety, but the DIT insists strict statutory limits are in place
A new Fair Trade Agreement (FTA) with India could see an increase in the number of food imports of staples like rice, wheat and tea to the UK, but experts warn this may lead to potentially illegal levels of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHP) in foods on supermarket shelves.
India is one of the largest agricultural exporters in the world, but the county’s food safety standards are of concern to campaigners and the government alike, who are critical of India’s heavy use of pesticides in food production.
A Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN) and Sustain Alliance report revealed India uses 62% more HHPs than the UK, including the insecticide malathion, a known carcinogen also thought to interfere with hormone systems leading to birth defects, developmental disorders and fertility problems. Grapes and apples grown in India are permitted to contain 200 times the amount of the chemical than is permitted in the UK.
The report found wheat grown in India is allowed to contain 50 times the amount of chlorpyrifos – a chemical banned in the UK since 2019 because evidence suggests it harms children’s brain development. Furthermore, over 200 tonnes of Indian rice were rejected worldwide each month last year because it contained pesticide residues exceeding legal limits of the importing country.
Campaigners are concerned the UK will be pressurised to lower standards to secure trade deals in the post-Brexit era, and that these products will appear on British shelves – with serious implications for public health.
“There is a major question over whether our residue testing regime is sufficiently robust to prevent food imports containing illegally high levels of pesticides from ending up on UK shelves.”
“With UK borders in a state of flux due to the EU exit, there is a major question over whether our residue testing regime is sufficiently robust to prevent food imports containing illegally high levels of pesticides from ending up on UK shelves,” says Josie Cohen, Head of Policy and Campaigns at PAN UK. “The trade deal with India is likely to incentivise a major increase in Indian food exports to the UK and therefore poses a significant risk to consumer health.”
However, the Department for International Trade says a trade agreement will not affect the UK’s existing World Trade Organisation rights to regulate the import of products grown using pesticides that are harmful to UK human, animal or plant health or the environment. Pesticide Maximum Residue Levels are always set below the level considered to be safe for eating the food, and are assessed on the basis of risk to consumers. There are no plans to change this approach.
“We have strict statutory limits for pesticide residue levels on imported food, and a robust programme of monitoring,” said a government spokesperson. “An FTA with India won’t change this – products which don’t meet our requirements won’t be permitted to enter the UK market and we will not compromise our high food standards.”
Gary McFarlane, Director NI at CIEH says: “This latest proposed trade deal once again raises serious questions about how importing cheaper food from the other side of the world impacts on the UK’s food security or sustainability, or how it helps the government meet its wider environmental pledges or commitment to achieving net-zero. This approach is not, in my view, the way to address our current challenges, if indeed that is what the Government intends?”
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