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Environment & ethics

New study calls for ban of entire pesticide category

An entire group of pesticides used in agriculture and in public places should be banned due to their harmful effect on pregnant women and children, according to a new study.

The report, published today in the peer-reviewed Plos Medicine journal, said there is “compelling” evidence that prenatal exposure to low levels of organophosphate (OP) pesticides puts children at risk of cognitive and behavioural deficits, as well as neurodevelopmental disorders.

Organophosphate pesticides, such as chlorpyrifos, are widely used to control insect damage on agricultural land, as well as public areas such as parks, golf courses and green areas in towns.

Scientists mapped OP usage data across 71 countries from five regions and found that high exposures are is responsible for poisonings and deaths, particularly in developing countries. Low level exposure has become ubiquitous, scientists said, resulting in neurodevelopmental problems in children and foetuses.

Among the recommendations put forward, the study said governments should phase out the entire range of OP pesticides, as well as monitor watersheds and other sources of human exposures.

Governments should also help farmers move away from toxic substances, the study said, by offering incentives and training on agroecology and integrated pest management, farming systems that work more closely with the environment.

Organic farmers already avoid toxic chemicals, and the study said that the fact most crops that are produced with OP pesticides are also produced organically proves that they are not essential.

Lead author Irva Hertz-Picciotto said: “We have compelling evidence from dozens of human studies that exposures of pregnant women to very low levels of organophosphate pesticides put children and foetuses at risk for developmental problems that may last a lifetime. By law, the EPA cannot ignore such clear findings: It’s time for a ban not just on chlorpyrifos, but all organophosphate pesticides.”

The news is the latest in a growing line of studies to link agrichemicals to negative effects on human health and comes as the debate continues around the UK will retain or adjust its regulations once it leaves the EU.

The Soil Association said there is a need to move the debate on and pointed to the greater number of OP pesticides that are allowed in the US compared to the EU, raising concerns around any trade deal with the US once Britain leaves the EU.

Farming unions for the non-organic sector have continued to argue for science-based decisions on pesticide regulations, and highlight the fact that farmers rely on multiple tools to protect crops from pests and disease.


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