Pesticides are chemical and biological products used to kill or control organisms such as insects, diseases and plants. According to a 2018 WHO-FAO report, pesticide use has increased globally in the past decade. Recent estimates found that 64% of global agricultural land (equivalent to 24.5 million km2 approximately) is at risk of pesticide pollution. According to the 2019 pesticide use survey, the weight of pesticides applied on outdoor vegetable crops in the UK has increased by 17% since 2011 and by 9% since 2017.

While promoting crop growth, pesticides can have negative effects on the health of the wider ecosystem. For example, some pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, contribute to insect decline. Human exposure to pesticides can occur through occupational (or home) use, environmental exposure (in air or water) or through residues in food. While exposure to high doses of some pesticides can be detrimental for human health and increase the risk of diseases such as cancer or neurological conditions, the effects of chronic exposure at low doses is still uncertain. The EU is reducing its use of pesticides and review its import standards to protect both environmental and human health. These will not apply to the UK and questions have been raised about current regulations and any required standards for future trade deals.

This POSTnote will summarise the evidence describing the short- and long-term effects of pesticides exposure (including from food residues) on human health and their links to diseases such as cancer and developmental defects. It will describe existing regulatory standards in the UK and the stakeholder debate around future UK trade deals.

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