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Agriculture and environment

Agriculture and pesticides

The EU seeks to ensure the correct use of pesticides to minimise the associated environmental and health risks. It also informs the public about their use and about any residue issues that might arise.

Widely used in farming, pesticides or plant protection products protect plants or plant products against pests. They fight crop pests and reduce competition from weeds, thus improving yields and protecting the availability, quality, reliability and price of produce to the benefit of farmers and consumers.

However, their use does involve risk, because most have inherent properties that can endanger health and the environment if not used properly. Human and animal health can be negatively affected through

  • direct exposure (e.g. industrial workers producing plant protection products and operators applying them) and
  • indirect exposure (e.g. via their residues in agricultural produce and drinking water, or by exposure of bystanders or animals to spray drift when they are applied).

Soil and water may be polluted via spray drift, dispersal of pesticides into the soil, and run-off during or after cleaning of equipment, or via uncontrolled disposal.

This is why the EU seeks to ensure the correct use of pesticides or plant protection products and to maintain public awareness.

In this respect, the Common Agricultural Policy includes measures that help promoting the sustainability in the use of plant protection products:

  • decoupling,
  • cross-compliance,
  • operational programmes of the fruit and vegetables regime,
  • agri-environmental measures (e.g. support to integrated farming),
  • training,
  • the use of farm advisory services.

In addition, there are EU regulations covering the placing on the market of plant protection products, biocidal products, and fixing maximum residue levels in food. Detailed information on EU pesticide legislation can be found on the Plant protection web site.

In 2006, the Commission adopted two proposals to strengthen the legislative framework concerning pesticides:

Since then, these proposals have been extensively discussed in the European Council and Parliament. Following political agreement between the co-legislators at the end of 2008, adoption is expected in 2009.

The EU also regulates the protection of water quality with respect to pesticides. The Water Framework Directive provides an integrated framework for the assessment, monitoring, and management of all surface waters and groundwater based on their ecological and chemical status.

Mandatory cross-compliance, established by the 2003 CAP reform, includes the respect of statutory requirements arising from the implementation of EU legislation covering the proper use of plant protection products.

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