The cocktail effect

6th November 2019

A report from the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) and the Soil Association using Government data shows the potentially harmful effects from mixtures of products where the regulatory mechanisms have been built to protect the environment from single ingredient products.

Excerpt from the report -

Despite the prevalence of pesticide cocktails, and the evidence that they can be more harmful than individual pesticides, the UK’s regulatory system continues to assess the safety of one chemical at a time. Safety assessments of pesticide residues in our food are based on analysis of individual chemicals.

While this report was able to rely on government testing for the data on food residues, there is currently no official monitoring of pesticide cocktails in the environment and the only information available is from a small number of independent academic studies. One UK study on bumblebees found that 43% had detectable levels of more than one pesticide, with traces of seven pesticides found in one individual. A study of soil in 11 European countries found UK sites had the second highest diversity of pesticide residues. Around 67% of the UK samples had multiple residues, 25% had more than six, with around 4% continuing traces of more than ten pesticides. UK water appears to be no less contaminated. A study revealed that 66% of samples taken from seven river catchments contained over ten pesticides. Two small rivers in East Devon were found to contain residues of up to 24 pesticides and six veterinary drugs.

While researchers have begun to explore systems to monitor and assess the cocktail effect, these are unable to accurately assess the full spectrum of health and environmental impacts resulting from long- term exposure to hundreds of different pesticides. Pesticides appear in millions of different combinations in varying concentrations in our food and landscape. It is arguably impossible to create a system sufficiently sophisticated to be able to assess, let alone protect us, from the cocktail effect. The only way to minimise the risk to health and environment is therefore to hugely decrease our overall pesticide use, thereby reducing our exposure to pesticide cocktails.


Both organisations carry an article and a link to the report -

Pesticide Action Network

The Soil Association