Toxic neonicotinoid washed off salad leaves into protected chalkstream

Toxic neonicotinoid washed off salad leaves into protected chalkstream exceeds acceptable concentrations by up to 400%.

NEWS RELEASE 23 June 2020

Data from a recent Freedom of Information request by Salmon & Trout Conservation shows that levels of Acetamiprid, a pesticide discharged by Bakkavör plc into the Upper Itchen catchment[1], have regularly exceeded acceptable concentrations. This toxic pesticide and many more are washed off leaves in preparing bags of salad.

Bakkavör plc supplies leading retailers, including M&S, Sainsbury's and Waitrose, with fresh produce such as watercress, baby leaf and organic salads and herbs.[2]

Acetamiprid regularly exceeded, by a factor of up to four times, the lethal dose (chronic and acute Regulatory Acceptable Concentration (RAC))[3]. Acetamiprid is in the neonicotinoid family, many of which were recently banned for use in Europe due to their acute toxic impact on bees. While Acetamiprid is considered less harmful to pollinators than its banned relatives, research shows that it is significantly more toxic to aquatic insects.[4]

Nick Measham, CEO Salmon & Trout Conservation said,

“Enough is enough. Bakkavör’s Alresford Salads factory has a long history of polluting the Upper Itchen. This latest revelation is the most troubling yet. Quite simply this pesticide pollution has to stop, and now. These chemicals will be killing aquatic insects, destroying the primary food source of wild salmon and trout. Bakkavör must end emissions of these and all other toxins which occur as a by-product of their processes. If they continue to refuse to do so, the EA must take decisive action.”

S&TC fears this is not the only insecticide discharging from the plant at quantities dangerous to aquatic life, and that, nationally, Bakkavör is not alone in this activity.  Until S&TC raised concerns over potential chemical inputs from the factory affecting the river, no-one was aware or monitoring what was actually being discharged. Current discharge permits require the operators to disclose to the EA any toxic substances which may be present in their discharge, and then monitoring procedures are established accordingly. Clearly, in this case, that did not happen. There are fundamental failures in the regulatory approach applied here, which must be addressed by the EA.

Additional Freedom of Information data obtained by S&TC suggests up to five hundred other sites throughout England of a similar nature could be operating under the same or similar inadequate permits with no pesticide monitoring requirements, but with pesticide residues being discharged.

Dr. Janina Gray, Head of Policy and Science, Salmon & Trout Conservation,

“Bakkavör is surely the tip of the iceberg. These issues appear to be widespread and will be causing ongoing environmental damage. The existing permitting regime wholly fails to protect the environment from the damaging effects of a range of toxic chemicals. What is even more worrying is the emerging science suggesting that a “cocktail effect” may increase the toxicity of many different chemicals beyond the sum of their parts. The EA has failed to keep pace with what is actually polluting our rivers.”

S&TC is calling on Bakkavör plc to stop their discharge immediately until they can be certain they are not discharging pesticides above regulatory standards and until they can demonstrate they are not impacting the river.

Bakkavör plc urgently needs to outline: 

  1. what action it is taking to remove Acetamiprid and other pesticides from its discharge;
  2. why it is taking so long to put proper protections in place for the Itchen;
  3. why as a responsible business, it should be discharging any pesticides into the headwaters of a highly protected chalkstream; and
  4. why, given the growing body of scientific evidence showing synergistic impacts of chemical cocktails, it routinely discharges a cocktail of 40 plus chemicals into the Itchen.

S&TC is calling on the Environment Agency to:

  1. accept no more delays and to vary Bakkavör’s discharge permit immediately, to give the EA the ability to regulate all chemical discharges made by Bakkavör;
  2. enforce permit variations at any other similar activities in England to require monitoring at any sites where pesticides are identified and, given the risk of synergistic effects, limit these discharges to well below safe levels.


(1) Salmon and Trout Conservation

Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC) was established as the Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA) in 1903 to address the damage done to our rivers by the polluting effects of the Industrial Revolution. Since then, S&TC has worked to protect fisheries, fish stocks and the wider aquatic environment for the public benefit. S&TC has charitable status in England, Wales and Scotland and its charitable objectives empower it to address all issues affecting fish and the aquatic environment, supported by robust evidence from its scientific network, and to take the widest possible remit in protecting salmonid fish stocks and the aquatic environment upon which they depend.

2) Case History 

Fears about pesticides and other chemicals in the discharges from this salad washing plant have been long standing[5] and culminated in June 2018 when S&TC issued the EA with a formal notification of environmental damage pursuant to the Environmental Liability Directive. This followed the results of S&TC’s invertebrate sampling[6] at a site immediately downstream of Bakkavör’s outflows which indicated that chemicals were impacting the invertebrate communities.

The resulting EA investigation confirmed S&TC’s findings; that there were pesticides present, which were on the salad leaves imported by Bakkavör and which were being subsequently washed off and into the Upper Itchen. It appears that Bakkavör had not self-notified the EA of the presence of these chemicals. Once made aware of the pesticide threat the EA began a monitoring and sampling regime. This testing revealed the presence of dozens of chemicals, pesticides and herbicides being washed off the fresh produce at Bakkavör Alresford Salads.


[1] The salad washing plant is situated on the River Aire a tributary of the protected River Itchen, a Special Area of Conservation (SAC)


[3] The long-term chronic Regulatory Acceptable Concentration (RAC) for Acetamiprid is 0.0235mg/l, and the short- term acute RAC is 0.085mg/l.


[5] [6]

Appendices (3):

Graph 1: Presence of Acetamiprid in the overnight wash discharge of Bakkavör Alresford Salads. The Lowest Limit of Analytical Determination (LOD) refers to the lowest concentration of the analyte that can be reliably detected and quantified. [It is believed that salad leaves associated with Acetamiprid, and its use, are more commonly associated with Spring seasonal produce, hence the absence of data during other months].

Table 1: Results of the sampling of the water leaving the factory during the overnight wash of salads and other fresh produce. [Only certain laboratories have the ability to test for Acetamiprid at the levels at which it is found to cause harm].

Table 2: Monthly Bakkavor - April 2020 - Sampling Data Summary April 2020. Released as part of Environment Agency FOI: 200605 SSD171346 - Bakkavor Data