Guy’s news: Toxic exports

When I was a teenager, my brother was hospitalised with Paraquat poisoning after spraying weeds with a leaking knapsack; skin contact alone was enough to make him seriously ill. I frequently suffered headaches and nausea as a young man spraying crops, and my decision to farm organically was initially driven simply by a desire not to handle those chemicals. Despite assurances of safety
by manufacturers and regulators, most of the pesticides we used in the ‘70s and ‘80s have since been banned as evidence of damage to the environment or human health accumulated. Paraquat is among the most toxic both to humans and animals, and has also been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease in farm workers. The danger it poses to human health is such that the chemical was outlawed by EU states in 2007, yet this week The Guardian revealed that Paraquat is still being manufactured in the UK, but for export. According to the article, 122,831 tonnes has been exported since 2015, 62% of which has gone to developing countries including Mexico, Indonesia and India.

Many farmers using Paraquat and other agrochemicals in these countries are illiterate and have little appreciation of the dangers involved, frequently applying them with no protective clothing whatsoever. Profiting from the lack of chemical regulation and education in such places is a human rights abuse up there with modern slavery; for the UK government to be complicit is staggering. While Paraquat is banned in over 40 countries, including Switzerland (home to manufacturer Syngenta), it is so unregulated and available in these developing countries that it is the suicide tool of choice, often by the very poverty-stricken farmers to whom it is marketed.

History has shown that the agrochemical giants profit from the chemicals they produce for as long as possible and move on, leaving the environment and the rest of humanity to pay the price. The fact is there’s no shortage of genuinely effective alternatives to Paraquat, but no-one makes money from sharing this farming knowledge, so GM seeds, Paraquat, and many other agro-chemicals are peddled unchecked to the uneducated and vulnerable as ‘progressive farming’, while the ethics that surround it could not be more backward.

Guy Watson

32 responses to “Guy’s news: Toxic exports

  1. Is there any group in the UK pressurising the government and the manufacturer to stop this?

  2. Thank-you for sharing your personal experience and
    The ruthless practice of big business is sad and shocking. The fact that Britain exports noxious, deadly chemicals is abhorrent! It wold have been great if you could have included a link to the article so that we read more.
    Thankfully organic farming offers a delicious, appealing and affordable alternative – good for the earth and good for our health!

  3. Truly shocking!

  4. Thank you, Guy, for highlighting this.
    Dawn, I read it on Tuesday, but I read the Australian edition. You’ll find it if you search the Guardianonline search box.

  5. Great comment; spelling oops: “peddled” ie sold, not “pedalled” as in bicycle.

  6. Paul R. Richardson

    Over a decade ago I read an American book by the title of ” The History of Cancer.” It was an extremely damning book about the chemical companies knowledge of the impact of of the effects of chemical on human health. The CEO were so focused on profits over responsibilities to their customers that the earth & its populations are suffering the consequences of this greed.
    Those of us who understand the damage caused by these toxic chemicals must shout out about the dangers they cause to protect the people who do not know and have no voice to protect theemselves.

  7. Another interesting and thought-provoking article. Thank you.

  8. Thank you for alerting the “Riverford community” to this shocking information about production in UK and export to developing countries of poisonous agrochemicals which are banned from use here. What is needed I think is that alongside any duty to create profit for shareholders must be a duty to avoid harm to people and the environment world wide.

  9. Here in France, I receive petitions to sign by email. ‘Sum of us ‘has been campaigning against the merger of Monsanto and other chemical companies. Anyone can launch a petition on one of these sites.

  10. Thanks for this. You or someone else need to shout louder about it. I read The Guardian but most people don’t. I have a friend who is dying of Parkinson’s disease who worked as a gardener for the local council in the 60’s and 70’s.

  11. Shocking indeed. It’s hard not to feel totally powerless in the face of the big corporate agrichemical businesses. Think of Bhopal – the people there are still facing contamination and birth defects, and Dow Chemicals is a “respected” business (Isn’t one of Trump’s advisers an ex-Dow Chemicals boss? I may be wrong but…)

  12. Could Riverford compose some kind of online petition that could be sent to the government to show our outrage at this practice ?

  13. Dear Guy,
    Thank you for this article to highlight the lack of chemical regulation in many countries. This issue has always bothered me when buying “organic” food which has come from foreign countries. There are a few foreign counties I would trust to ensure that “organic” meets similar standards as the UK’s but I regret that there are many closer to home, including some in Europe, that I would not. You only need to recall some of the reported incidents over the years to realise that when food/drink is being exported, whatever regulation does exist in that country, it seems to be ignored or less stringently applied.
    A question I have always wanted to ask you: what does your firm do to ensure that any food coming from abroad is genuinely “organic” other than the label? (excluding the food you grow yourself in France).
    Personally knowing and trusting the farm is of course the best way but do you personally know, trust and vet all the farms you import from?

  14. That’s terrible

    I’ll speak to Patrick Mclughlin. Our MP and Chair of the Conservative Party

  15. That is really terrible

  16. Guy, I think we should start a petition with Avaaz or to get this export stopped. Anyone agree?

  17. I agree that we should start a petition. They are very effective in bringing peoples’ attention to injustices such as this and bringing about a total ban on the manufacture of Paraquat.

  18. Words fail me! Guy has yet again produced a thought provoking article, a truly shocking revelation. And, yes some form of petition should be set up – we’d willingly sign.

  19. Wonder which would be more effective customers signing a petition or writing to your local MP or perhaps both to highlight the practice

  20. Have just sat down and written to my MP, this is indeed a travesty. Thank you Guy for once again highlighting the many wrongdoings of corporate companies who carry on destroying the health and wellbeing of our planet, whilst busy lining their own pockets for such incredibly selfish short-term gain.

  21. As others have said- thank you for bringing this appalling situation to our attention. My dad used pesticides on an arable farm in the 1970’s-he died last year as a result of Parkinson’s Disease. I have just sent an e-mail to my MP, Luke Pollard asking him to raise the profile of this and asking that he lobby to change the law. As well as the Guardian article, I found the following article which was published in the New York Times in December 2016.

  22. An excellent request Julie Darsley. I would be one of the first to sign such a petition and share it with friends. We need to get the government’s urgent attention regarding this matter.

  23. I agree Janey Fisher and was thinking exactly the same thing

  24. I usually don’t read the backside of the recipe cards, but happened to do it this time. And this is so well said and well written!!
    So I posted the text to my Facebook page, with the caption “I wish that more people knew and cared”. I think we all need to preach to the ones that don’t care to buy organic foods as we are already converted. This needs to be in the media. I don’t know how to truly reach people. If I post something about the environment I barely get a single reaction, while a cute photo of a kitten gets lots. I think that people get so much information so the important bits drown in the flow. I also notice a cultural difference. I’m from Sweden and I saw so many “organic” signs in the shops and in the ads for shops when I went here two weeks ago.

  25. Thank you to Claire Perry, my MP, who has responded by letter with the following: “I was very interested to read your thoughts and the article from Riverford on this issue. I have taken the opportunity to write to George Eustice MP, Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to raise your concerns and ask for clarification about the Government’s approach to the manufacture and export of toxic pesticides such as Paraquat. I shall let you know once I have received a response”. I will in turn report back.

  26. Hi guy,

    We in WA, Australia use a chemical called sprayseed (I think part of its active constituents is paraquat). I have to spray this for work a lot and always still wear a respirator and suit etc. am I safe with PPE? It’s crazy how behind Aus is with the use of chemicals. And people laugh when you pull up research from the EU and talk about how bad it is… such a bad mentality. Our MSDS says it’s ok, so it must be. Do you know what the AUS version of Soil association is? I’ve been trying to find something to join and create a better movement for change over here.

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