Sheffield university academic gives briefing to the Government on the health risks posed by pesticides

The Government has been issued with a detailed brief from a university in Yorkshire on the health risk of pesticides amid concerns over pollution affecting vast swathes of agricultural land across the country.

The Government has been given a briefing paper from the University of Sheffield on the potential impact of pesticides, which are used to boost yields of crops such as wheat and potatoes. (Photo: David Giles/PA Wire)

The study from the University of Sheffield is seen as a vital piece of research as regulations on pesticides are due to be refined next year following the UK’s departure from the European Union.

More than 70 per cent of land in the UK is used for agriculture, and three-quarters of this area is estimated to be at risk of some form of pesticide pollution.

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Nicole Kennard, a PhD researcher from the University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, interviewed more than 50 experts including officials from Public Health England and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as well as the Scottish and Northern Irish governments.

She has now co-authored the brief for parliamentarians on the potential health impacts of pesticide use.

Ms Kennard said: “We don’t know exactly how being exposed to low doses of pesticides, through the environment, water and food impacts our long-term health, or how these pesticides interact with each other and other chemicals – something often termed as the ‘cocktail effect’.

“It is a very difficult area to study because we are all exposed to such a wide range of chemicals every day.”

She added: “So far, it has not been proven that pesticides are a direct cause of any specific health impact.

“But this does not mean that they couldn’t be, and there are associations between pesticide exposure and increased health risks for certain pesticides. Research is still growing in this area.”

While pesticides have not been established as a direct cause of any health problems, the report has outlined the growing research which suggests that the chemicals appear to have been associated with a 50 per cent increase in Parkinson’s disease for workers and farmers exposed to pesticides.

There have also been links between maternal exposure to pesticides during pregnancy and rises in childhood cancer.

The Government and the devolved administrations are aiming to minimise the risks and impacts of pesticides on human health and the environment through the National Action Plan (NAP) for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides. An updated version is due to be finalised by the end of this year.

And as the UK begins negotiations for new trade deals in the post-Brexit era, there is speculation about whether it may change its regulatory approaches from the current EU framework to more streamlined approaches that closely resemble other countries, such as the USA and Australia.