The UK government’s recent response regarding risks to people from pesticides is “outrageous and complacent”, according to Georgina Downs, a pesticides campaigner.

In a meeting with the EU commissioner for health Markos Kyprianou on 5 September, Ms Downs also told Mr Kyprianou, “that the UK government’s approach could well be unlawful, as it appears incompatible with EU legislation”.

Ms Downs attended the meeting, held at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, with her MEP, Caroline Lucas.  Dr Lucas organised the meeting to give Ms Downs the opportunity to present her case to the Commissioner.
 
Both Ms Downs and Dr Lucas expressed dismay at the government’s recent response to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution report entitled “Crop Spraying and the Health or Residents and Bystanders”.

According to the pair the government response rejects all criticisms of the existing policy and fails to acknowledge the health risks inherent in the spraying of agricultural chemicals. 

They claim it also dismisses any link between pesticides and chronic ill-health conditions such as Parkinson’s, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, cancers and birth defects.
 
To support her argument Ms Downs cited a statement recently made by the European Commission on 12 July 2006 in relation to the new EU Thematic Strategy on pesticides.

The statement acknowledged that:  “Long term exposure to pesticides can lead to serious disturbances to the immune system, sexual disorders, cancers, sterility, birth defects, damage to the nervous system and genetic damage.”
 
Ms Downs said of the meeting: “I am very pleased to have been able to present the case directly to Mr Kyprianou. The UK Government has continued to deny the role of pesticides in the development of chronic diseases which is in complete contrast to statements recently made in European Commission publications.

“I think it is critical that the Commissioner hears about these contradictions, in the hope that the EU will now intervene on this issue at a higher level and recognise the need for urgent action to protect public health from exposure to these hazardous chemicals, particularly in relation to the protection of children and other vulnerable groups.”
 
However, the Food Standards Agency has investigated the possible threat posed by pesticide residues and concluded that residue levels are well below minimum levels.

“Maximum residue levels are generally set well below safety limits…There are no safety concerns or we would take action immediately,” said the FSA report.

And the Pesticides Residue Committee recently stated that eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day was of greater importance than concerns about pesticide residues.

“The positive effects of eating fresh fruit and vegetables as part of a balanced, healthy diet are well proven and far outweigh any concern about pesticide residues,” said Ian Brown, chairman of the Pesticides Residues Committee.