India trade deal could lead to ‘spike in toxic pesticides in British food’

A rushed trade deal with India could trigger a surge in dangerous pesticides in UK food, experts have warned, amid fears London may bow to demands and water down domestic standards.

Nearly 120 pesticides out of 307 registered in India for use in agriculture are deemed ‘highly hazardous’, according to Dr Narasimha Reddy, public policy expert at Pesticide Action Network (PAN) India. They have been linked to diseases including cancer, infertility and brain damage. 

India has one of the highest rates of unintentional pesticide poisoning in the world, causing over 30,000 deaths every year. In a report published on Thursday, PAN warned that roughly 200 tonnes of Indian rice was rejected globally each month in 2021 because it contained pesticide residues that exceeded the legal limits of importing countries. 

There are growing fears about how trade deals may affect British standards. On July 21, India and the UK concluded the fifth round of talks for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which is estimated to double bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2030.

Negotiations are taking place behind closed doors, but look set to include food exports from India. The report warned that India is “infamous for lobbying aggressively against protections”, and may make this a requirement of any agreement. 

Concerns ‘complex deal’ rushed

Currently, the UK does apply tariffs to some Indian agricultural imports, although others – including rice, wheat and tea – are exempt. 

“As a result, Indian negotiators are likely to focus on removing non-tariff or regulatory barriers,” said Josie Cohen, head of policy and campaigns at PAN. “[This] which would almost certainly include pressure on the UK to facilitate Indian exports by allowing larger amounts of more toxic pesticides in food.

“If UK negotiators bow to these demands then British consumers are likely to experience an increase in toxic pesticides in their food, increasing their exposure to harmful chemicals and posing a risk to their health,” she added. 

In total, India approves 62 per cent more highly hazardous pesticides than the UK (118 to the UK’s 73). Ms Cohen said a trade deal is likely to include rice, wheat, apples, grapes, mangos, onions, tea, and spices.

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