What are pesticides?
Who decides on their authorisation?
Who is responsible for their use?
How can pesticides be used safely?

Find out!

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What is a pesticide?

A 'pesticide' prevents, destroys, or controls a harmful organism ('pest') or disease.

Pesticides include Plant Protection Products (PPPs) – which are used primarily in the agricultural sector and biocides which are mainly used for non-agricultural purposes. Below we refer to Plant Protection Products.

what is a pesticide
what is a pesticide

Why pesticides?

Ever since the early stages of agriculture, plants for food needed to be protected against pests and diseases.

The Romans and the Greeks already used what may be termed chemical methods to protect their crops. Today, a wide range of synthetic products have been developed to guarantee safe, targeted and effective control of plant pests and diseases.
In recent years, there have been a growing number of low risk pesticides approved in the EU, in addition to micro-organisms and other alternative products.

Pesticides (chemical and non-chemical) are essential for food production. Even in organic farming, a limited range of pesticides are allowed.

what is a pesticide what is a pesticide

Projections show that feeding a world population of 9.1 billion people in 2050 would require raising overall food production by some 70 percent between 2005/07 and 2050 (source).

In recent years, there have been a growing number of low risk pesticides approved in the EU, in addition to micro-organisms and other alternative products.

Pesticides (chemical and non-chemical) are essential for food production. Even in organic farming, a very small number of pesticides are allowed.

Projections show that feeding a world population of 9.1 billion people in 2050 would require raising overall food production by some 70 percent between 2005/07 and 2050 (source).

What is an active substance?

Active substances – in the form of chemicals or micro-organisms – are the essential ingredients in a pesticide that enable the product to do its job.

The pesticide is the final product placed on the market. Apart from one or more active substances, a pesticide usually contains other ingredients that help to increase its efficacy and better protect the plant on which it is applied.

what is a pesticide what is a pesticide

The pesticide is the final product placed on the market. Apart from one or more active substances, a pesticide usually contains other ingredients that help to increase its efficacy and better protect the plant on which it is applied.

Approval & authorisation

EU pesticide laws are the strictest in the world.

An active substance is only approved by the European Commission after a rigorous and lengthy (> 3 years) science-based assessment to ensure its use is safe. For this purpose, a complete dossier of studies must be submitted addressing the comprehensive data requirements which are set at EU level by specific regulations.

The assessment of these dossiers is then conducted jointly by:

  • the national authorities in EU Member States
  • the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)

The overall process entails two steps: first, an assessment and possible approval of the active substance at EU level and then an assessment and authorisation of the final products by the Member States. Data on approved substances and authorised products are reviewed periodically to reflect scientific progress or whenever needed.

The assessment of these dossiers is then conducted jointly by:

approval and authorisation
approval and authorisation
  • the national authorities in EU Member States
  • the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)

This is a two-step process involving both approval at EU level and authorisation by the Member States.

Approved substances are also periodically reviewed.

How does it work?

Procedure:

  • Company "X" submits an application for the approval of an active substance "Y" to any EU country (in case of renewals/reviews, the country is selected by the Commission). That EU country – subsequently called "Rapporteur Member State" (RMS) – is then tasked with the initial scientific and technical evaluation of the active substance. The RMS drafts an assessment report for the active substance "Y" and sends it to the EFSA.
  • In consultation with other EU countries, EFSA carries out a peer review of the assessment report and sends its conclusions to the European Commission.
how does it work?
how does it work?

The RMS drafts an assessment report for the active substance "Y" and sends it to the EFSA.

In consultation with other EU countries, EFSA carries out a peer review of the assessment report and sends its conclusions to the European Commission.

approval and authorisation
approval and authorisation
  • Based on EFSA's review, the European Commission makes a proposal on whether or not to approve substance "Y".
  • A regulatory committee composed of representatives of all EU countries votes on the Commission proposal for active substance "Y".

  • if a qualified majority (55% of EU countries representing at least 65% of the total EU population) votes in favour of the proposed measure, the Commission must adopt it
  • if there is a qualified majority against (negative opinion) the Commission cannot adopt the act
  • if there is no qualified majority for or against ('no opinion') the Commission may adopt the draft.

In specific policy areas, such as GMO authorisations, or if a simple majority of Member States is against the draft act, the Commission cannot go ahead with adoption when the Committee reaches a 'no opinion' situation. It must in these cases refer the draft to an Appeal Committee, also composed of Member State representatives.

A positive or negative opinion in the Appeal Committee produces the same results as in the first Committee. If the Appeal Committee repeats the 'no opinion' vote, then the Commission may adopt the draft. In practice this often means that the Appeal Committee has not helped to provide additional clarity to the Commission on Member State positions.

More information

approval and authorisation
  • if a qualified majority (55% of EU countries representing at least 65% of the total EU population) votes in favour of the proposed implementing act, the Commission must adopt it
  • if a qualified majority votes against the proposed act, the Commission may not adopt it, it may amend it or send the initial form to the Appeal Committee
  • if there is no qualified majority either for or against the proposed act, the Commission can either adopt it or submit a new, amended version.
approval and authorisation

After the Committee delivers a positive opinion, the decision is adopted by the Commission and a Regulation approving or banning the active substance "Y" is published. Approval with restrictions is also possible.

approval and authorisation
approval and authorisation

A new active substance is usually approved for maximum 10 years, while the renewed approval can be granted for up to 15 years.

approval and authorisation approval and authorisation

In order for a pesticide to enter the market it needs to be authorised by the EU country where it will be used.

The pesticide can only contain approved substances. For pesticide authorisation, the EU is split into three zones: North, South, Centre.

approval and authorisation

The zones are intended to simplify administrative processes and group together countries with similar agricultural, plant health and environmental conditions.

approval and authorisation
approval and authorisation approval and authorisation

The zones are intended to simplify administrative processes and group together countries with similar agricultural, plant health and environmental conditions.

The pesticide has to be assessed in one EU country (the Zonal Rapporteur Member State - RMS) from each zone it is intended to be used in.

  • Other Member States in the zone can comment on the evaluation of the Zonal RMS.
  • The Zonal RMS makes a decision on whether to grant or refuse authorisation.
  • Other Member States in the same zone make a decision to grant or refuse authorisation.
approval and authorisation

When a pesticide is authorised for use in one Member State, it can be authorised more quickly in other Member States through mutual recognition.

approval and authorisation
approval and authorisation approval and authorisation
approval and authorisation approval and authorisation

The pesticide has to be assessed in one EU country (the Zonal Rapporteur Member State - RMS) from each zone it is intended to be used in.

approval and authorisation

Active substances are approved at EU level but the final products are authorised by national authorities in each EU country.

EU rules allow Member States to refuse or restrict the sale of pesticides, based on the agricultural and environmental circumstances in their territory.

based on the agricultural and environmental circumstances in their territory.

For authorised pesticides Member States have to enforce the correct use according to the label and by monitoring the environment they can further verify that such uses are under control. The Commission is regularly checking the implementation of the legislation in the Member States by conducting audits, following up on any shortcomings and publishing all reports of these audits.

approval and authorisation
approval and authorisation

For authorised pesticides Member States have to enforce the correct use according to the label and by monitoring the environment they can further verify that such uses are under control. The Commission is regularly checking the implementation of the legislation in the Member States by conducting audits, following up on any shortcomings and publishing all reports of these audits.

approval and authorisation

Reviewing

Approved substances are regularly reviewed.

A thorough EU review involving the European Commission, EFSA and Member States has been performed in the past 25 years on all the substances used in Europe. As a result, the number of approved active substances in pesticides has been cut down by more than 50%.

There used to be more than 1000 active substances on the market before the EU review process started. Now only some 400 are available and among them around 25% are micro-organisms, insect pheromones and plant extracts.

approval and authorisation
approval and authorisation

There used to be more than 1000 active substances on the market before the EU review process started. Now only some 400 are available and among them around 25% are micro-organisms, insect pheromones and plant extracts.

Many pesticides which were routinely used by farmers 25 years ago are no longer authorised

and have been replaced by safer pesticides or non-chemical methods.

Many pesticides which were routinely used by farmers 25 years ago are no longer authorised and have been replaced by safer pesticides or non-chemical methods.

approval and authorisation
approval and authorisation

Low-risk alternatives

Substances are approved as low-risk substances when they meet special criteria. The Commission recently revised these criteria for low-risk substances to facilitate their identification. Pesticides containing only low-risk substances should benefit from a much faster authorisation process to get them to the market quickly.

In the past few years a clear trend among new active substances is the increased presence of micro-organisms and plant extracts which now represent around 50% of the ongoing new evaluations.

In the near future, it is expected that more and more active substances will be approved or re-approved as LOW RISK active substances.

Thanks to the continuous research and prioritisation of the use of biological over chemical agents whenever possible, it can be expected that more alternative techniques will be made available for plant protection in the future.

Finally, the Commission is flagging to Member States problematic substances that should be replaced with less toxic alternatives, the so-called 'Candidates for Substitution'.

approval and authorisation
approval and authorisation

In the near future, it is expected that more and more active substances will be approved or re-approved as LOW RISK active substances.

Thanks to the continuous research and prioritisation of the use of biological over chemical agents whenever possible, it can be expected that more alternative techniques will be made available for plant protection in the future.

Finally, the Commission is flagging to Member States problematic substances that should be replaced with less toxic alternatives, the so-called 'Candidates for Substitution'.

Restrictions: examples

In 2013 the Commission restricted the use of neonicotinoids in order to protect bees.

More recently, in 2016, the Commission banned at EU level a dangerous co-formulant used together with the active substance glyphosate and reminded Member States of their obligation to limit the use of pesticides in some areas (in the vicinity of parks and playgrounds).

approval and authorisation
approval and authorisation

Use of pesticides

approval and authorisation

The EU has set rules for the use of pesticides in the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive (SUD) to reduce the risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment and promote the use of alternative approaches or techniques such as low risk pesticides or non-chemical alternatives to pesticides.

approval and authorisation

This includes the promotion of Integrated Pest Management. Member States must promote pest management with low pesticide input, giving wherever possible preference to non-chemical methods. This includes integrated pest management as well as organic farming.

The EU has set rules for the use of pesticides in the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive (SUD) to reduce the risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment and promote the use of alternative approaches or techniques such as low risk pesticides or non-chemical alternatives to pesticides.

Use of pesticides

This includes the promotion of Integrated Pest Management. Member States must promote pest management with low pesticide input, giving wherever possible preference to non-chemical methods. This includes integrated pest management as well as organic farming.

Use of pesticides

The total organic farming area in the EU-28 was 11.1 million hectares in 2015 (6.4% of total used arable land) and it is expected to grow in the coming years.

The organic area grew by 21% alone in the years 2010 to 2015 (source).

Use of pesticides

Organic farming allows only a limited range of pesticides which are mainly made of naturally occurring substances such as micro-organisms, plant extracts, pheromones to be used. Growers of some crops in greenhouses e.g. sweet peppers in Spain, now almost exclusively use non-chemical methods to controls pests: they release beneficial insects which are natural enemies of the pests and control them without the need for chemical products.

Use of pesticides

Organic farming allows only a limited range of pesticides which are mainly made of naturally occurring substances such as micro-organisms, plant extracts, pheromones to be used. Growers of some crops in greenhouses e.g. sweet peppers in Spain, now almost exclusively use non-chemical methods to controls pests: they release beneficial insects which are natural enemies of the pests and control them without the need for chemical products.

Use of pesticides

National authorities must adapt their laws to meet the goals of the Sustainable Use Directive, but are free to decide how to do so.

The Commission has reported on the actions undertaken by EU countries to implement these legal obligations and established future priorities of steps to be taken to improve the current situation.

Use of pesticides

THE MAIN ACTIONS

for the safe and sustainable use of pesticides are:

for the safe and sustainable use of pesticides are:

main actions

National Action Plans


EU countries set objectives and timetables to reduce risks and impacts of pesticide use.

main actions

Training


Professional pesticide users, distributors and advisors receive training and certification.

main actions

Information and awareness raising


Member States take measures to inform the general public and put in place systems to gather information on acute poisoning incidents and chronic poisoning developments.

main actions

Ban of aerial spraying


Aerial spraying is prohibited. EU countries may allow it under strict conditions including warning citizens.

main actions

Minimising or banning


EU countries minimise or ban the use of pesticides in critical areas for environmental and health reasons i.e. near parks, sports grounds or drinking water.

main actions

Inspection of equipment in use


All pesticides application equipment must be regularly inspected and maintained to ensure that the use of pesticides is safe for human health and the environment.

main actions

Integrated Pest Management


The EU is committed to reducing the dependency on the use of pesticides. Therefore, pesticide users are obliged to apply the principles of integrated pest management, which favours prevention and prioritises the use of low risk pesticides and non-chemical methods. Integrated Pest Management must be promoted by Member States and must be implemented by all professional users.

Use of pesticides

Monitoring by EU countries

National governments are the ones who decide what products (PPPs) can be sold, what formulae those products have and how they can actually be used in the field. They are also the ones enforcing the rules and monitoring that pesticides are properly used.

The EU has one of the strictest PPP Regulatory frameworks in the world.

Use of pesticides

Examples of good practices

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  • Denmark has developed a "Pesticide Load Indicator" which calculates the potential environmental and human health load of individual pesticides on the market on the basis of their toxicological classification. This indicator is used to monitor progress towards achieving risk reduction targets and increasing use of IPM.

    The Netherlands have developed an "Environmental Indicator for Pesticides" which is a risk assessment model, specifically designed for the situation in the Netherlands, in particular, with regard to surface water and soil types. This estimates the potential environmental impact of pesticides used in Dutch agriculture by calculating emissions to air, surface water and groundwater.

    Sweden uses a national risk index for health and the environment to monitor trends in the risk to human health and the environment associated with pesticides. The value for each year is determined based on pesticide sales and the intrinsic properties of the products sold.

    Germany uses the SYNOPS model used to measure relative changes in pesticide-related risks to the environment. It is calculated based on the volumes of pesticide active substances sold and the characteristics of these substances.

  • In Sweden, a network of approximately 1 000 plots in commercial fields of cereals, legumes and vegetables are monitored every Monday between April and August. Weekly regional bulletins for advisors and growers based on the monitoring data are produced and information on pest thresholds and crop protection recommendations are provided. These weekly bulletins are available online and via mobile applications.

    In Poland, there is an online IPM support system for growers, covering the main pests and diseases of major crops. This online system is fed with information gathered in 206 monitoring stations through the country.

    Germany has made extensive use of EU Rural Development funds under Pillar II of the Common Agriculture Policy to promote the use of non-chemical pest control techniques that are available, but not economically viable.

  • Germany has gone beyond the requirements of the SUD in establishing a target, and a timeline, for the use of drift reducing nozzles/equipment. The target is that at least 50% of boom and orchard sprayers have nozzles capable of reducing spray drift by at least 75% by 2023.

  • In the Netherlands, there is a dedicated fast-stream route for the authorisation of low-risk pesticides. Applicants are given the option of having pre-submission meetings with the authorising body free of charge.

    Denmark provides financial support towards the costs of authorising non-chemical pesticides. Under this programme, applicants can receive up to 100% of the total costs associated with gaining authorisation for a new pesticide.

  • In Denmark, under the Pesticide Leaching Assessment Programme, authorised pesticides are applied to six representative test fields in line with normal agricultural practices followed by intensive monitoring to determine if there is evidence of the pesticides, or their metabolites, leaching into groundwater. As a result of this programme, a small number of previously authorised pesticides have had their authorisations withdrawn in Denmark, while in other cases the conditions of use have been modified. Denmark believes that this programme offers significant assurances that their pesticide authorisation system ensures that authorised pesticides will not lead to groundwater contamination.

    In the Netherlands, in cases where monitoring data identifies problematic emissions of pesticides to surface water, the authorities may require the holder of the authorisation to produce and implement “Emissions Reduction Plans”. There is an agreement between the authorities and the industry to develop 3-4 such plans each year.

Pesticide residues in food

The traces pesticides leave in treated products are called “residues”. The amounts of residues found in food must be safe for consumers and must be as low as possible. A “maximum residue level” – or MRL – is the upper level of a pesticide residue permitted on food or feed.

Based on scientific advice by EFSA, the European Commission fixes MRLs for all food – these can be found in the MRL database. Currently a comprehensive review of existing MRLs is carried out by EFSA and the Commission to ensure that all levels are in line with the latest scientific developments. This review also considers existing international standards. Where acceptable such international standards are taken over to facilitate trade.

Pesticide residues in food Pesticide residues in food
Pesticide residues in food

Currently a comprehensive review of existing MRLs is carried out by EFSA and the Commission to ensure that all levels are in line with the latest scientific developments. This review also considers existing international standards. Where acceptable such international standards are taken over to facilitate trade.

Pesticide residues in food

on average, more than

80.000

food samples are analysed for their MRLs every year.

For the past 20 years first the European Commission and since 2007 EFSA have been publishing a comprehensive annual report on the levels of pesticide residues in food and feed and the exposure of European consumers to pesticide residues.

For the past 20 years the European institutions (first the Commission and, since 2007, EFSA) have been publishing a comprehensive annual report on the levels of pesticide residues in food and feed and the exposure of European consumers to pesticide residues.

Pesticide residues in food

The annual reports constantly showed that an overwhelming amount of food (97%) has residues below the legal limits. EFSA and the Commission are jointly working on a methodology to assess the effects of pesticides residues that have similar effects and may occur in food together. This will allow to improve and refine pesticides risk assessment even further in the future.

Pesticide residues in food Pesticide residues in food

EFSA and the Commission are jointly working on a methodology to assess the effects of pesticides residues that have similar effects and may occur in food together. This will allow to improve and refine pesticides risk assessment even further in the future.

The annual reports constantly showed that an overwhelming amount of food (97%) has residues below the legal limits.

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Pesticide residues in food

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pesticides, visit

Pesticide residues in food