Can we trust the pesticide regulators?

When farmers, horticulturalists and amateur gardeners buy pesticides they assume that the products are thoroughly tested for safety before they are approved for use. We are told that pesticides are the most regulated products on the market and that safety is assured.

When concerns are raised Members of Parliament will approach the regulators for advice and will invariably write suggesting that pesticide safety is taken very seriously and that if any pesticide was shown to do harm then they would not hesitate to ban the product.
But is that really true?

Over the decades a large number of approved pesticides have been withdrawn because they were later found to cause adverse health effects - but that withdrawal from the market place only occurs after long periods of use and more often after persistent protests from those affected and their representatives.
Sometimes, as with Mercury based seed dressings, the chemicals were still approved long after the real risks had become widely known and understood. Eventually action had to be taken.

There may be several explanations for this reluctance to ban chemicals.
The approvals process makes money for the regulators but it also appears to transfer liability for harmful products to the government. How this was allowed to happen is a mystery but it has been reported that in the USA if an approved chemical is banned then the government picks up the bill for the cost of recall and for compensation to the companies involved not only for those products recalled but also for unsold stock.

This is obviously a major disincentive for the regulators who would have to admit that they approved chemicals which were less than safe. Admitting to such dangerous mistakes would be disincentive enough without the additional financial penalties.

All too often when questions are asked of the regulatory bodies the inquirer is met with delayed, inaccurate and incomplete responses which can only be assumed to be attempts to keep the information from the public. For evidence in support of that statement please see copies of letters written seeking information between February 1999 and February 2003 in a Rich Text File here.

For example safety information accepted during the approvals process is all too often based on the almost pure active ingredients alone or in distilled water. Despite this the data is assumed to apply also to commercial formulations, the properties of which may be completely different to the active ingredients on their own. Moreover in the manufacturing process it is common for impurities to be present in the formulations which may be extremely toxic in their own right.
Attempts to discover what those impurities may be and the effect of their presence in the formulations can be met by refusal to release the information on the grounds of "Commercial Confidentiality" and even if by persistence that information is released there may well be an instruction that it must not be released to the public.

When it comes to mixtures of pesticides the information is very limited. The effects of more than one pesticide in combined exposures, even chemicals made by the same chemical company, may not be known and may not even have been tested for. With two or more companies involved the situation is even worse. There are so many potential combinations that it is impossible to test the effects of them all and yet it seems that safety is assumed rather than proven.

This is extremely dangerous but when combined with medications provided to people with illnesses, but who are then expoised, the situation can be very much worse - and life threatening..

The interesting aspect of the current approach to the confidentiality of data is that any rival commercial companies will inevitably have the means to determine any part of any formulation made by their competitors, whereas the public does not have that ability and must seek the required information from those who possess it.
It would appear then that "commercial confidentiality" is simply a ruse to hide key facts from those who may be adversely affected by the pesticides or even require the facts to help their medical teams understand the cause of any adverse health conditions.

The public then are reliant on the regulatory authorities not merely to protect their health but also to provide vital information about the chemicals they approve to those who request it - but can they be trusted to provide that information and to provide it accurately, completely and honestly?
It appears that they cannot.
Unless members of the public have knowledge of the chemicals and the way they are used they will have no idea if the information provided to them is correct.

For example, a letter from the Veterinary Products Committee confirming that organophosphates can break down to form a more deadly substance known as TEPP, which killed an entire herd of cattle within hours of its use. Having seen that letter the Pesticide Safety Directorate was asked if this was possible and to explain the science behind the reaction.
The PSD denied that such a process was possible.
Who was being honest?
Furthermore the PSD stated categorically that neither TEPP nor its sister chemical Sulfotep had ever been approved as pesticides in the United Kingdom. They were not to know that there were copies of the approved list of pesticides in a government paper published in 1984 on Pesticide Poisoning.
In that paper both chemicals were indeed listed as approved for use in the UK.
The PSD then apologised for giving misleading information.
Had the truth not been known more misinformation would have stood unchallenged, leaving the public misled about safety once again.

Another instance involved the use of organophosphate insecticides as add-mixture in harvested wheat, barley, oats and other crops. Despite instructions stating that the chemical should be kept away from food and foodstuffs and that bags which had contained treated grains were rendered too toxic to then be used to store food there was in fact no withholding time after treatment and before consumption.
Asked about this the PSD, which had approved its use in food grains, decided to state that the reason for the above warnings was that the product could only be used to treat grain to be used for seed. This was plainly untrue.
In fact a similar product, approved for use in the same way specifically states that it must not be used on grain to be sown as seed.
Both chemicals are declared hazardous to the environment.

If the regulators are prepared to give false information, on the assumption that those receiving it will know no different, how can they be trusted with the more important data on chemical safety.
Sadly the truth is that they cannot.

Just one of those organophosphorus chemicals used to treat harvested grain has a declared half-life of days in water, or just hours in sunlight. Those who use the chemical know different. It is very powerful and very persistent.
The half-life claim was tested by diluting the chemical in tap water at the recommended rate for use in a grain store. A sample was taken and stored for over 5 years. A sample of that was then sent to a recognised laboratory to be tested for the presence of the active ingredient. The laboratory was unable to test for breakdown products or impurities.
Shockingly the results, which the laboratory confirmed would hold up in any court of law, proved that the active ingredient was in its original state, with no breakdown at all, despite the passing of all those years.
See here.
Notified of this finding it was assumed that the PSD would urgently take action to check those findings and take action to improve safety standards.
Instead the false half-life figures and claims for rapid breakdown are still accepted as factual, and this despite ministerial admissions that other chemicals in the formulations protect the active ingredient from breakdown.
Incredibly it was admitted that there is no requirement to know the fate of stored diluted chemicals even though that is the form in which most pesticides are used.
This would presumably be why operators are warned not to store diluted products even during meal times.
The danger presented by such storage is unknown.

These are chemicals which are regarded as persistent and cumulative. Their effects gradually increase in the body to a point where serious ill-health can result. Safety calculations regarding life-time exposure rely on the safety data and if the half-life is dramatically higher than the data shows then the life-time exposure will be far greater than those calculations assume. The claimed 100-fold margin of safety means nothing if the chemicals remain active for so long and the exposures are repeated daily in our food and environment.

More recently there has been much controversy regarding the safety or otherwise of the most commonly used organophosphorus compound, Gylphosate.
The products based on this active ingredient have a long and controversial history which culminated recently in no less a body that the World Health Organisation declaring the chemical as a carcinogen.
This is not new information and the findings merely confirmed those of independent scientists many years earlier.
See here.
Unsurprisingly those supporting the chemicals, basing opinions once again on industry data for the active ingredient only, strongly criticised the WHO for publishing the findings. The UK government itself decided to join the fight to retain the use of glyphosate products, supported and encouraged by the National Farmers Union and the Farming Press.

The WHO declared that their decision was based on actual commercial product use in agriculture and not simply on the data for the active ingredient and stood by their findings but that declaration made no difference to those trying to retain the offending products.

What is certain is that illnesses known to be triggered by exposure to many of the approved chemicals are rapidly increasing in the population and yet there is a denial that the chemicals pose any risk to health, which is clearly not true.
See here.

What is true is that there is a determination to hide the links between the pesticides and ill-health, even when specialist opinion and scientific assessments have proven those links.
There is a suspicion that this failure to recognise poisoning cases is due to the close relationship between those who approve pesticides for use and those who investigate the cases of poisoning caused by those pesticides. All too often those harmed by the chemicals are left to fend for themselves and are accused of imagining their symptoms.

The rapid increase in the numbers of cancer, cardio-respiratory, neurological, hormone and auto-immune diseases, to name but a few, cannot be explained away by “an ageing population”. Those suffering with these conditions are getting younger - children are born with cancers. Autism numbers are rising fast with potential links to the known combined effects of vaccines and organophosphate exposure being ignored by those who could act.

The entire world's population, be they human, animal, fish or bird, relies entirely on the correct and efficient actions of the regulatory bodies but, because they are failing in their declared duty the Earth, its waters and its atmosphere are being increasingly contaminated with cumulative poisons.
It may already be too late to stop the major health disaster from reaching a point where there is no return.

We need to be able to trust and to rely upon those who regulate chemicals and enforce the regulations - which are there supposedly to protect us all.

Dated 21/02/2017

Go to top

  Return to Latest Updates;   Return to Front Page;   Return to OP file;