Europeans most exposed to toxic pesticides linked to agriculture

Laws, regulations such as German LkSG leave business vulnerable to punitive measures

Europeans are among the most exposed to harmful pollutants resulting from agricultural activity, according to data from our Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Index, leaving business vulnerable to punitive measures stemming from new supply chain laws including Germany’s Supply Chain Act (LkSG).

When looking at the 25 highest risk countries* in the POPs dataset - which measures the amount of toxic pesticides impacting environments such as freshwater systems, typically through run-off from agricultural land - 16 are located in Europe. Belgium leads the way as the riskiest country globally, with Germany, Hungary and Poland ranked 2nd, 6thand 8th highest risk respectively.

Homing in on the EU’s 27 member states shows that 17 fall within the index’s extreme risk category, including the likes of France (ranked 10th), Denmark (11th) and the Netherlands (18th), with a further nine rated high risk. Sweden, ranked 109th highest risk globally, is the only country in the bloc that falls outside of the index’s two highest risk categories.

The immediate concern associated with POP exposure is the threat to human health. Studies have linked pesticides - which can contaminate food supplies after being used in agricultural processes - to a range of adverse health problems, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers and birth defects.

Regulations and guidelines developed to reduce the production and use of POPs mean that businesses could face a raft of legal and financial consequences if their operations are tied to contamination.

Indeed, analysis from this year's Human Rights Outlook argued that the UN’s recognition of the universal right to a healthy environment in July 2022 could kickstart a new era of legal woes for companies in polluting sectors, as claimants look to use breaches of human rights as the basis of environmental lawsuits.

At the same time, environmental factors are being increasingly baked into domestic supply chain regulations. This includes the German Supply Chain Act, or LkSG, which references POPs, mercury pollution and hazardous waste alongside a raft of human rights risks that larger German-based businesses must now report on if they are to avoid punitive measures.

*analysis covers countries with a population >1m

Jess Middleton

Senior Data Journalist

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