Biodiversity summit will be a COP-out without action on pesticides

Biodiversity summit will be a COP-out without action on pesticides

The Soil Association is calling on Rishi Sunak and world leaders at COP15 to help farmers ditch pesticides that are harming wildlife both at home and in precious ecosystems like the Amazon.

We're urging politicians gathering in Montreal for the UN Biodiversity Conference to protect nature by backing the proposed target to reduce pesticide use by two thirds by 2030.


This target has been proposed in the first draft of the post-2020 biodiversity framework that world leaders are set to consider during the conference, with a view to making agreements to protect nature similar to the Paris Agreement’s climate commitments.


We're also calling for the UK and EU governments to prohibit unethical exports of highly hazardous pesticides that are banned for use in the UK.

As highlighted in our recent Stop Poison Poultry campaign, these dangerous chemicals are exported for use on soya and other crops in Latin America, where they are poisoning exotic wildlife. Soya is imported in huge volumes by the UK as feed for British chickens, with no testing carried out for pesticide residues.


Our Head of Farming Gareth Morgan said: “The UN Biodiversity Summit will be a COP-out if world leaders fail to end the pesticide treadmill. The catastrophic crash in wildlife populations cannot be reversed in a world that is not committed to phasing out these toxic chemicals. The target to protect 30% of land and ocean by 2030 will not be enough – all land, including British farmland, must protect and restore nature as part of its vital role in sustainable food production.


“We know that pesticides are directly linked to declines in bees and other vital insect species, as well as harming the wildlife that eat them, even in surrounding conservation areas. We also know that bans on specific chemicals do not work as they are simply replaced by another, with farmers given little to no support to move to nature-friendly systems.


“Our new Prime Minister must show true leadership at COP15 by making a commitment to end the routine use of increasingly expensive toxic chemicals in farming. His priority should be helping farmers find better long-term alternatives, not protecting the interests of agri-chemical companies. The first step the UK government should take is to ban UK businesses producing and exporting destructive pesticides that are banned here.”


We're also urging the UK government to publish the alarmingly long-overdue National Action Plan for Pesticides – its five-year plan for reducing pesticide use which has not been updated since 2013.


This should include pesticide reduction targets and investment for farmer-led research into alternative pest control methods that work with nature rather than against it – for example by using predatory insects.


A robust Environmental Land Management Scheme that rewards farmers using these nature-based solutions is also essential.


UK export of banned pesticides

Our Stop Poison Poultry petition was signed by more than 30,000 people this year asking UK supermarkets to remove highly hazardous pesticides from their supply chains.


This was in light of our report findings that most of the British chickens sold in UK supermarkets come from intensive poultry units and are fed on soya grown in Brazil, where the majority of the pesticides most commonly applied to these crops are banned for use in the UK or EU.


Information obtained by Unearthed revealed that agrochemical companies operating in the UK exported pesticides containing 12,240 tonnes of seven different chemicals banned in the UK in 2020 to 20 different countries. This included:


  • paraquat, a weedkiller linked to Parkinson’s disease

  • imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid banned in 2018 because it harms bees

  • propiconazole, a fungicide banned because it was classified as capable of harming babies in the womb

  • chlorothalonil, a fungicide banned in 2019 over concerns that it might contaminate groundwater.