Pet medicine chemicals banned in agriculture found in English rivers

Two chemicals that have been banned for being too toxic to wildlife but approved for use in animal medicines are polluting England’s rivers, an investigation has found.

Permethrin and imidacloprid, which are used to kill parasites such as fleas and ticks on cats and dogs, were banned in Europe in 2002 and 2018 respectively due to their danger to aquatic life and pollinators.

Along with fipronil, another insecticide found in 483 animal products, at least one of these chemicals was found in 109 of 283 river sites tested by the Environment Agency (EA) at levels above safe limits accepted for wildlife.

Analyzing EA data, the Wildlife and Countryside Link (WCL) found fipronil at 105 sites – 37% of the total tested – despite it never being used in UK agriculture, with some sites which show concentrations 100 times above the safe level and two. to more than 1000 times.

Imidacloprid was found at 22 sites, with half of them showing concentrations above safe limits, while permethrin was found at four, with all sites between three and seven times the safe level.

Recent studies from the UK, Spain and the US have identified pet medicines as a likely source of fipronil and other insecticides in the aquatic environment.

They suggested several ways that these chemicals end up in rivers, such as by washing treated pets and their bedding or clothing, urine or feces, or by treated dogs swimming in rivers. .

Richard Benwell, chief executive of the WCL, said: “Giving animals the highest standard of care does not need to come at the expense of nature, but these results suggest that too many insecticides and other toxic chemicals are still ending up in our rivers.

Environmental groups say there are less harmful alternatives available to treat animals (Nick Ansell/PA)

“The Government could show real leadership by banning these harmful substances to support vets and animal lovers to switch to less polluting alternatives, which are clearly available.”

According to a 2021 survey by the British Veterinary Association, 98% of veterinarians who treat dogs and cats said they are concerned about the effect on the environment of chemicals used in animal medicines.

Andre Menache, a veterinary surgeon and director of the Progressive Veterinary Association (PVA), said: “We have known the environmental impacts of parasiticides for many years.

“We need to move away from the plethora of voluntary driving that exists if we want to reverse the decline of wildlife. This is why the PVA supports the call for a ban on these chemicals.”

Together with environmental groups including Pesticide Action Network (PAN UK), Greenpeace, RSPB, The Rivers Trust and Wildfish, the PVA is calling on the UK Government to ban all pesticides from pet medicines if they are not allowed in agriculture and include automatically. all of which are prohibited in the future.

They say there are safer alternatives so such a ban doesn’t mean animals have to go without treatment.

Josie Cohen, of PAN UK, said: “It simply does not make sense to block these chemicals from being used on crops to protect the environment while allowing them to be routinely applied by millions of pet owners every month.

“If we want to deal with chemical pollution, then we urgently need to close this gap. Where alternatives exist, which they absolutely do in the case of medicines for animals, chemicals known to harm wildlife must be removed from the market

A spokesman for the Directorate of Veterinary Medicine said: “When authorizing veterinary medicines, we take into account both parasite control and environmental risks. In this case, the medicine plays a vital role in the treatment of fleas and ticks, which can cause harmful diseases in animals and present risks for humans.

“We will continue to take a balanced approach on veterinary medicines and have created a group of experts to research how we can best reduce the impacts of pharmaceuticals on the environment.”

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