Agri-environmental indicator - consumption of pesticides

Data from August 2016. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned update: March 2018.

This article provides a fact sheet of the European Union (EU) agri-environmental indicator consumption of pesticides. It consists of an overview of recent data, complemented by all information on definitions, measurement methods and context needed to interpret them correctly. The consumption of pesticides article is part of a set of similar fact sheets providing a complete picture of the state of the agri-environmental indicators in the EU.

For the purpose of this article, the term "pesticides" refers to the plant protection product and covers the following categories:

  • ‘Fungicides and bactericides’,
  • ‘Herbicides, haulm destructors and moss killers’,
  • 'Insecticides and acaricides',
  • 'Molluscicides',
  • 'Plant growth regulators'
  • 'Other plant protection products'.


Table 1: Sales of pesticides, 2011-14 (tonnes of active ingredient)
Source: Eurostat (aei_fm_salpest09) Detailed information on confidential and not available data can be found in "Data used and methodology".
Figure 1: Share of different types of pesticides in total sales of pesticides, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (aei_fm_salpest09) Detailed information on confidential and not available data can be found in "Data used and methodology".
Figure 2: Sales of fungicides, 2011-14 (thousand tonnes of active ingredient)
Source: Eurostat (aei_fm_salpest09) Detailed information on confidential and not available data can be found in "Data used and methodology".
Figure 3: Sales of herbicides, 2011-14 (thousand tonnes of active ingredient)
Source: Eurostat (aei_fm_salpest09) Detailed information on confidential and not available data can be found in "Data used and methodology".
Figure 4: Sales of insecticides, 2011-14 (thousand tonnes of active ingredient)
Source: Eurostat (aei_fm_salpest09) Detailed information on confidential and not available data can be found in "Data used and methodology".

The consumption of pesticides in agriculture is indicated by both the applied rates by the farmers and the amounts sold, and is measured by the following indicators:

Main indicator: 

  • Application rates of different pesticide categories

Supporting indicators:

  • Used quantities of different pesticide categories
  • Sold quantities of different pesticide categories 

The statistics presented in this article refer exclusively to the sold quantities of different pesticide categories.

 Main statistical findings

Key messages

  • The total quantity of pesticides sold, expressed in active substances, increased between 2011 and 2014 in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, France, Latvia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Finland and also in Norway and Switzerland.
  • The pesticide sales decreased from 2011 to 2014 in Bulgaria[1] , Denmark, Ireland, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom (see Table 1).
  • 'Fungicides and bactericides’ were the most sold pesticides in 2014 in countries for which data were available. In half of the EU Member States, ‘fungicides and bactericides’ made up more than one third of the sales of pesticides (in tonnes of active substances). In Portugal, Cyprus, Slovenia and Malta this share was even greater than 60 %.
  • In 12 EU Member States ‘herbicides, haulm destructors and moss killers’ made up more than half of the sales of pesticides, in Sweden and Luxembourg (2013 data) this share was above 80 %.
  • The share of ‘insecticides and acaricides’ in total sales of pesticides is less significant in most countries (<10 %), except Cyprus (17 %), Bulgaria (16 %), Greece (15 %), Spain (10 %) and Hungary (10 %) (Figure 1).

Assessment

‘Fungicides and bactericides’ remained the most sold pesticides in tonnes of active substance sold. In 2011 the sales of ‘fungicides and bactericides’ were highest in Italy with 43.3 thousand tonnes of active substances. By 2014 the sales of ‘fungicides and bactericides’ in Italy were however reduced by 12 % to 37.9 thousand tonnes of active substances — the highest absolute reduction in ‘fungicides and bactericides’ sales between 2011 and 2014 (5 thousand tonnes less of active substances). In 2014 the sales of ‘fungicides and bactericides’ were highest in Spain with 38.4 thousand tonnes of active substances, followed closely by France, which has seen the sales of ‘fungicides and bactericides’ increase in the last four years. The sales of ‘fungicides and bactericides’ remained rather stable between 2011 and 2014 in Germany, reaching 12.7 thousand tonnes of active substances in 2014 (see Figure 2). In all other EU Member States the sales of ‘fungicides and bactericides’ were always below the 10 thousand tonnes of active substances threshold.

In 2014 the sales of ‘herbicides, haulm destructors and moss killers’ were highest in France with 31 thousand tonnes of active substances followed by Germany with 18 thousand tonnes of active substances. Spain, the United Kingdom and Poland were the only other EU Member States with sales of ‘herbicides, haulm destructors and moss killers’ above 10 thousand tonnes of active substances. In general, the sales of herbicides did not change much during the four years in focus with the exception of Denmark, where there was a steep reduction (see Figure 3).

In 2011 the sales of ‘insecticides and acaricides’ were highest in Spain and Italy with close to 8 thousand tonnes of active substances. The largest absolute reduction between 2011 and 2014 occurred in Italy where sales decreased from 7.9 to 2.3 thousand tonnes (Figure 4), while in Spain the reduction was much smaller and kept Spain in the lead for the sales of ‘insecticides and acaricides’.

Data sources and availability

Indicator definition

The consumption of pesticides (here plant protection products, excluding biocides and disinfectant products) in agriculture is indicated by both the applied rates by the farmers and the amounts sold.

Measurements

Main indicator:

  • Application rates of different pesticide categories

Supporting indicators:

  • Used quantities of different pesticide categories
  • Sold quantities of different pesticide categories

Links with other indicators

Data used and methodology

The data on sales of pesticides from national industries is available in two different series:

  • Data series 1997-2008

This collection presents data on sales of plant protection products communicated by EU Member States and Norway on the basis of a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’.

  • Data series from reference year 2011 onward

This collection is based on Regulation (EC) No 1185/2009 concerning statistics on pesticides which established a common framework for the systematic production of Community statistics on the placing on the market and use of those pesticides which are plant protection products. The current article focusses on this data series.

Plant protection products are preparations consisting of or containing one or more active substance, put up in the form in which they are supplied to the user, intended to:

plant protection products are active substances and preparations containing one or more active substances, put up in the form in which they are supplied to the user, intended to:

  • protect plants or plant products against all harmful organisms or prevent the action of such organisms, in so far as such substances or preparations are not otherwise defined below;
  • influence the life processes of plants, other than as a nutrient, (e.g. growth regulators);
  • preserve plant products, in so far as such substances or products are not subject to special Council of Commission provisions on preservatives;
  • destroy undesired plants; or
  • check or prevent undesired growth of plants.

Nevertheless there is no common definition adopted by all Member States and there can be significant differences in the range of products used in different countries, so comparability is limited. Additional information on the situation in specific countries is required for any detailed assessment. Data refer to amounts of active substances, which are the substances in a commercial product that cause the desired effect on target organisms (fungi, weeds, pests, etc.). Base data is generally in tonnes of active ingredient sold per year for each of the main functional categories of products (‘herbicides, haulm destructors and moss killers’, ‘fungicides and bactericides’, ‘insecticides and acaricides’, and others). Data on sales of pesticides cover agricultural and non-agricultural uses.

Although using a total active ingredient value as a pesticide indicator provides a broad indication of loading, it overlooks factors governing pesticide fate, which are often key parameters for determining long-term environmental impact. Total active ingredient values also do not discriminate between pesticides with transitory effects and those with characteristically longer residence times in the environment which may pose a greater risk to environmental and ecological quality objectives. There is no absolute relationship between the loading of active substances and the potential threat to the environment and human and animal health. Indicators of the intensity of pesticide use can however be a first step towards risk evaluation, in the absence of the risk indicator AEI 17 - Pesticide risk.

In this article, the tables and graphics are affected by confidentiality restrictions. The impact of these restrictions on the data varies according to the Member States, the type of pesticides and the year. Confidential data are excluded from EU-28 totals and represent only 0.003% of total pesticides sales.

The detailed information on confidential and not available data at Member State level is presented in the table below:


Fungicides and bactericides Herbicides, haulm destructors and moss killers Insecticides and acaricides Molluscicides Plant growth regulators Other plant protection products
Bulgaria 2011: c 2011: c 2011: c 2012 to 2014: na 2011: c, 2012 to 2014: na 2012 to 2014: na
Czech Republic 2011: c 2011: c
Estonia 2011 to 2014: c 2011 to 2014: c
Ireland 2014: c
Greece 2011: c
Cyprus 2011 to 2013: c 2011 to 2013: c 2011 to 2013: c 2011 to 2013: c 2011 to 2013: c 2011: c
Latvia 2011, 2012: na
Lithuania 2011: c Example 2012 to 2014: na
Luxembourg 2014: na 2013: c 2014: na 2014: na, 2011 to 2013: c 2014: na 2014: na, 2011 to 2013: c 2014: na, 2011 to 2013: c
Malta 2011: na 2014: c
Slovakia 2013, 2014: c
Finland 2011 to 2014: c
Sweden 2011, 2013, 2014: c 2012: c
United Kingdom 2013, 2014: c

c: confidential

na: not available

Context

The use of pesticides plays an important role in agricultural production by ensuring less weed and pest damage to crops and a consistent yield. However, their use can have negative environmental impacts on water quality, terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity (persistence and toxic effects on non-target species, etc.). Pesticide residues in food may also pose a risk for human health. Member States annually monitor pesticide residues relative to European maximum residue limits (MRLs) and in 2014 over 97% of the around 83 000 samples analysed fell within the legal limits . Exceedances observed during the annual monitoring activities are more often found in foods imported from outside the EU (6.5 % of the samples from third country in 2014 contained residues that exceeded the permitted concentrations), but some residue problems can also be assigned to European agriculture (1.6 % of the samples in 2014).

The environmental risk of pesticide use vary considerably from one pesticide to another, depending on the intrinsic characteristics of their active substances (toxicity, persistence, etc.) and use patterns (applied volumes, application period and method, crop and soil type, etc.). Measuring the real use of pesticides would allow a better estimate of the risks by crop and region for different compartments of the environment or for human health. At the moment harmonised statistical data on use of pesticides are not available on a European scale. Under Regulation (EC) No 1185/2009 concerning pesticide statistics, data deliveries on the agricultural use by crop each five years started in 2015, but the data remains fragmented. Annual data on sales statistics are delivered since 2012 (reference year 2011).

Data on use of pesticides are also needed for the indicator AEI 17 - Pesticide Risk. To calculate true risk indicators, it is necessary to establish toxicity and ecotoxicity levels for each active substance and combine these with relevant data on the quantities used and other information. The way in which pesticides are used (quantities, time and method of application, type of crop, type of soil, etc.) influences their effect on human health and the environment. However, apart from the crop type, statistics on these factors are not yet available.

Pesticide use is partly influenced by economics (the most profitable crops are the ones most economically viable to treat), and partly by local soil and climate conditions which determine the vulnerability of a site to pest infestation. It also depends on the type of farming (conventional or organic).

Policy relevance and context

As a result of their potential toxicity, often even at very low levels, the application of pesticides is now strictly controlled by Community legislation since 1991 (by national legislation prior to 1991). Policy control measures in the EU are driven by the objectives of protecting human health and the environment (consumers, operator safety, protection of water quality and biodiversity).

The most important legislation with regard to pesticides are the following:

  • Directive 2009/128/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 October 2009 establishing a framework for Community action to achieve the sustainable use of pesticides;
  • Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 October 2009 concerning the placing of plant protection products on the market.
  • Regulation (EC) No 83/98 of 13 January 1998 on the quality of water intended for human consumption (Drinking Water Directive) which stipulates a maximum concentration of 0.1 μg/l (which in practice means the absence) for any single pesticide and its relevant metabolites (maximum of 0.5 μg/l for total pesticides) in potable water;
  • Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy (Water Framework Directive) which identifies a large number of particularly toxic, persistent or bioaccumulative polluting substances in Annex VIII including organophosphate compounds.

Other relevant legislation include:

  • Directive 2008/105/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on environmental quality standards in the field of water policy,
  • Directive 2002/32/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 May 2002 on undesirable substances in animal feed,
  • Regulation (EC) No 396/2005 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 February 2005 on maximum residue levels of pesticides in or on food and feed of plant and animal origin.

In 2002 the European Commission adopted a communication ‘Towards a thematic strategy on the sustainable use of pesticides’ (COM (2002) 349 final) following the mandate to develop a thematic strategy in the Sixth Environment Action Programme. The Commission Communication contained a description of the current situation regarding pesticides and related areas at EU and Member State level. A number of objectives are identified and analysed. The subsequent Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (COM (2006) 372 final) was adopted in 2006.

In 2009, the Pesticides Framework Directive (2009/128/EC) aimed to reduce damage caused by pesticides, and its focus is on plant protection products. Instructions to adapt national action plans, develop obligatory systems for training and education, set up a framework for equipment inspections, examine alternative pest management methods, secure water protection, and apply harmonised risk indicators are fundamental. In the sequence of this Pesticides Framework Directive, Member States have introduced country specific measures setting objectives and timetables to reduce risks and impacts of pesticide use. For more information see National Action Plans.

Agri-environmental context

Research into pesticides has concentrated on the contamination of waters, impacts on aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna, and impacts on human health[2]. Direct and indirect negative effects of pesticide use on biodiversity have been shown by different studies [3] [4][5] [6]. Direct effects of increased pesticide use include reductions in the number of species of arthropods[7], while reduced weed species can limit fodder available for seed/weed eating and generate a more closed vegetation canopy habitat for animals and birds. Stoate et al. (2001) reports on the decline in arable invertebrates associated with pesticide applications and the related decline in farmland birds such as grey partridge, skylarks and corn bunting. Pesticide applications even when limited to recommended rates are also known to affect non-target species selectively[8].

Contamination of the environment from pesticides may result from spray drift, volatilisation, surface run-off, and subsurface loss via leaching/drainflow. Pesticide fate (and hence environmental risk) is primarily governed by vapour pressure, sorption characteristics, solubility in water, and environmental persistence[9]. Vapour pressure governs the tendency for pesticides to volatilise and be lost to the atmosphere in gaseous form, while sorption properties govern bonding to organic and inorganic soil surfaces. Sorption properties limit the mobility of pesticides in the environment, and are influenced by factors including soil organic matter, clay content, and soil pH. Pesticides with greater water solubility often have lower sorption behaviour, which makes them more mobile in the environment and hence more prone to leaching to water bodies. The persistence of pesticides in the environment differs greatly and is dependent on factors such as their susceptibility to attack by micro-organisms and enzymes, soil temperature and water content.

See also


Further Eurostat information

Publications

Database

Farm Management (aei_fm)
Pesticide sales (from 2009 onwards) - Reg. 1185/2009 (aei_fm_salpest09)
Pesticide sales (1997-2008) (aei_fm_salpest)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables, figures and maps (MS Excel)

Other information

External links

  • European Commission
  • DG Agriculture and Rural Development
  • DG Environment
  • DG Health and Food Safety

Notes

  1. 2012-14
  2. Skinner, J. A., Lewis, K. A., Bardon, K. S., Tucker, P., Catt, J. A. and Chambers B. J. (1997). ‘An overview of the environmental impact of agriculture in the UK’. Journal of Environmental Management 50, pp. 111–128.
  3. Young J. E. B., Griffin M. J, Alford D. V. and Ogilvy S. E. (2001). ‘Reducing agrochemical use on the arable farm’, The Talisman and Scarab projects (eds). DEFRA: London.
  4. Campbell, L.H and Cooke, A.S. (1997) The indirect effects of pesticides on birds. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, UK.
  5. Stoate, C., Boatman, N. D., Borralho, R. J., Rio Carvalho, C., de Snoo, G. R. and Eden, P. (2001). ‘Ecological impacts of arable intensification in Europe’. Journal of Environmental Management 63, pp. 337–365.
  6. Marrs, R. H., Frost, A. J. and Plant, R. A. (1991). ‘Effects of herbicide spray drift on selected species of nature conservation interest: the effects of plant age and surrounding vegetation structure’. Environmental Pollution 69, pp. 223–225.
  7. Young J. E. B., Griffin M. J, Alford D. V. and Ogilvy S. E. (2001). ‘Reducing agrochemical use on the arable farm’, The Talisman and Scarab projects (eds). DEFRA: London.
  8. Marrs, R. H., Frost, A. J. and Plant, R. A. (1991). ‘Effects of herbicide spray drift on selected species of nature conservation interest: the effects of plant age and surrounding vegetation structure’. Environmental Pollution 69, pp. 223–225.
  9. Binks, R., Fowbert, J. and Parker, W. R. (2002). A review of the environmental impact of global horticultural systems. Report to DEFRA Chief Scientists Group, London.