Agri-environmental indicator - consumption of pesticides
Data from May 2020
Planned update: May 2021
The group 'Fungicides and bactericides' was the most sold group of pesticides in the EU in 2018.
Among the EU Member States, Germany, Spain, France and Italy reported over two thirds of the total EU pesticide sales volume, both in 2011 and 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 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.
- Over the period 2011-2018, the sales of pesticides remained more or less stable at around 360 000 tonnes per year in the EU. The data on sales of pesticide active substances contain many confidential values even when published at the highest aggregation level, i.e. by major group. The confidential values represent < 3 % of the total volume of sales over the entire time series.
- 14 EU Member States provided non-confidential data for all major groups in 2011 and 2018. For the other EU countries, at least one of the highest aggregates 'major group' is confidential and hinders a comparison. Between 2011 and 2018, the total volume of pesticide active substances sold in these 14 EU Member States increased slightly, by 0.2 %. It is important to note that many of the more hazardous substances have had their authorisation withdrawn, and been removed from the market, following their evaluation under Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 concerning the placing of plant protection products on the market.
- Of the 14 EU Member States which provided non-confidential data for all the major groups, 8 (Portugal, Ireland, Czechia, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Romania and Hungary) decreased their total sales of pesticides, with an over 40 % decrease recorded for Portugal.
Analysis at EU and country level
Sales of pesticides have remained rather stable in the EU countries since 2011 (Figure 1). The total volume sold is annually around 360 000 tonnes. It should be noted that over the whole time period 2011-2018, < 3 % of the total sales volume are confidential values and therefore not included.
Pesticide sales are reported in six major groups of substances (see below under ‘Indicator definition’). The major groups of pesticides which recorded the highest sales volumes both in 2011 and 2018 were 'Fungicides and bactericides' and 'Herbicides, haulm destructors and moss killers' (Table 1). Four EU countries (Germany, Spain, France and Italy) recorded the highest volumes sold in most major groups, and in total. These countries are also the main agricultural producers in the EU, with collectively 51 % of the total EU utilised agricultural area (UAA), and 49 % of the total EU arable land.
In order to assess if the total volume of pesticides sold is changing, the 14 EU countries (Belgium, Czechia, Germany, Ireland, France, Italy, Cyprus, Hungary, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia), which provided non-confidential data for all major groups in both 2011 and 2018, were analysed (Table 1). The analysis showed that in 2011, these countries recorded sales of 245 028 tonnes of pesticide active substances, and in 2018 they recorded 245 604 tonnes, i.e. a slight increase of 0.2 %. There are big differences between countries; in 2018 the volume of pesticides sold in Portugal was 43 % lower than in 2011 (Figure 2). Ireland, Czechia and Italy reported more than 20 % lower pesticide sales in 2018. On the other hand, Cyprus, Austria, France and Slovakia reported significantly higher sales of pesticides in 2018 than in 2011.
Eurostat also disseminates data on the second aggregation level, category of products, defined in the legislation. It allows a view of a more detailed breakdown of pesticide categories. In 2018, the largest share of 'Fungicides and bactericides' sold in the EU were the inorganic fungicides (Figure 3). These are copper compounds, inorganic sulphur and other inorganic fungicides. More than half (53.1 %) of all fungicide sales were inorganic fungicides. Copper compounds and sulphur are also permitted for use in organic farming.
The 'Herbicides, haulm destructors and moss killers' group (Figure 4) was dominated by sales in the category ‘Other herbicides’ (63.4 %) in 2018. This is a large category containing over 60 active substances, including e.g. glyphosate and iron sulphate.
Over 80 % of sales in the 'Insecticides and acaricides' group were substances in the category of products ‘Other insecticides’ (Figure 5). Again, this is a very large category with many substances, and includes among others the > 30 different insect attractants ‘Straight chain lepidopteran pheromones’.
Source data for tables and graphs
For the purpose of this article, the term 'pesticides' refers to the plant protection products and covers the following categories:
- 'Fungicides and bactericides',
- 'Herbicides, haulm destructors and moss killers',
- 'Insecticides and acaricides',
- 'Plant growth regulators',
- 'Other plant protection products'.
The consumption of pesticides in agriculture would best be indicated by the rates applied by the farmers. This data is, however, not available today. Supporting this indicator are the volumes sold, and the statistics presented in this article refer exclusively to the quantities sold of different pesticide categories.
- Application rates of different pesticide categories (not available)
- Used quantities of different pesticide categories (not available)
- Sold quantities of different pesticide categories
Links with other indicators
This indicator is linked with other agri-environmental indicators, available on the Eurostat webpage.
Data used and methodology
The data collection from reference year 2011 onwards 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 sales and use of those pesticides which are plant protection products. The 'Harmonised classification of substances' classifies each active substance in a major group, category of product and chemical class. Eurostat is permitted to publish non-confidential aggregated national data, and cannot disseminate data on individual active substances. Some classifications of active substances changed in reference year 2016 through the amendment by Commission Regulation (EU) 2017/269. Some newly approved substances were included in the data collection, while some substances received a different classification (for example changed from the major group 'Insecticides and acaricides' to 'Other plant protection products', or from the latter major group to 'Fungicides and bactericides'). Eurostat and reporting countries are working towards creating a harmonised dataset over time. Where this work is not yet finalised, the aggregated data are flagged with the flag ‘d’ (definition differs) in Eurostat's dissemination database to inform users. This is also explained in the methodological notes attached to the dataset.
Plant protection products are preparations consisting of or containing one or more active substances, 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 kg 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 both agricultural and non-agricultural uses.
Although using a total active ingredient volume as a pesticide indicator provides a broad indication of loading, it overlooks factors governing pesticide fate and intrinsic properties, 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 which are more persistent 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.
Pesticide sales statistics 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. As regards the total sales of pesticides in the EU 2011-2018, < 3 % of the volume is confidential data.
Pesticides 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. 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). Annual variations can depend on the weather conditions, pest outbreaks, sales prices, etc.
At European Union level, the principle aim is to reduce the risks and impact of pesticide use on human health and the environment. It is now one of the concrete targets of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy to reduce by 50 % of the use and risk of pesticides.
Member States monitor pesticide residues in food and feed relative to European maximum residue limits (MRLs) and in 2018 95.5 % of the around 91 000 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 (8.3 % of the samples from third countries in 2018 contained residues that exceeded the permitted concentrations), but some residue problems can also be assigned to European agriculture (3.1 % of the samples in 2018).
The environmental risk of pesticide use varies 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 every five years started in 2015, but the data remain fragmented. Annual data on sales statistics are available as of 2011.
EU harmonised pesticide statistics are also needed for creating harmonised risk indicators. 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. Risk indicators have therefore been developed based on pesticide sales statistics and other data.
Policy relevance and context
The ‘Farm to Fork Strategy – for a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system’ was adopted by the European Commission on 20 May 2020. The Farm to Fork Strategy aims to accelerate our transition to a sustainable food system. In the strategy, the Commission presents actions to be taken forward in line with the better regulation principles, one of which is to propose a revision of the pesticides statistics regulation to overcome data gaps and reinforce evidence-based policy making, by 2023. Eurostat is following the 'Strategy for Agricultural Statistics for 2020 and beyond' in close collaboration with the main data users and producers of agricultural statistics. Pesticide statistics are included as part this work. More background information can be found on the webpage of the Strategy.
The application of pesticides is strictly controlled by Community legislation since 1991 (by national legislation prior to 1991), due to their potential toxicity, often even at very low levels. 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). Only a limited number of pesticide active substances are permitted to be used in organic farming; those listed in Annex II of Commission Regulation (EC) No 889/2008 on organic production.
In 2009, the Sustainable Use Directive (Directive 2009/128/EC), the so called 'SUD', established a framework to achieve a sustainable use of pesticides by reducing the risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment and promoting the use of integrated pest management and of alternative approaches or techniques such as non-chemical alternatives to pesticides. Instructions to adopt 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. Following up on the Sustainable Use Directive, Member States have introduced country specific measures setting objectives and timetables to reduce risks and impact of pesticide use. In the latest Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the implementation of the SUD, the progress towards the full implementation of the requirements are described.
Article 15(4) of Directive 2009/128/EC requires the European Commission to calculate risk indicators at Union level using statistical data collected in accordance with Union legislation concerning statistics on plant protection products and other relevant data, in order to estimate trends in risks from pesticide use. Member States are also obliged to calculate the harmonised risk indicators (Article 15(2) of the Directive). The first harmonised risk indicators were introduced through amendment C(2019) 3580. The indicators are published on the SUD webportal.
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;
- Directive 2009/127/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 October 2009 amending Directive 2006/42/EC with regard to machinery for pesticide application;
- Council Directive 98/83/EC of 3 November 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;
- 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.
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.). The Sustainable Use Directive promotes the use of integrated pest management and of alternative approaches and techniques such as non-chemical alternatives to pesticides. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a strategy that promotes a safer and more sustainable management of pesticides. IPM strategies are evolving because of new emerging pests and climate change, and involve crop rotation, hygiene measures to prevent pest spread, protecting and enhancing beneficial organisms, using adequate cultivation techniques, appropriate cultivars or seeds. Farmers must implement IPM and give preference to non-chemical methods if they provide satisfactory pest control. The main purpose is to reduce the dependency on pesticides in agriculture.
Contamination of the environment from pesticides may result from spray drift, volatilisation, surface run-off, and subsurface loss via leaching/drainflow. 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. In the last decade, a lot has been achieved in the agricultural sector to limit negative effects from pesticides. Organic farming is increasing year by year and now covers 7.5 % of the EU UAA. Four million farmers have been trained in the safe use of pesticides, and the number of EU approved low risk or non-chemical substances have doubled since 2009.
- Agriculture, see:
- Agriculture and environment (aei)
- Pesticide sales (aei_fm_salpest09)
- Harmonised risk indicator 1 for pesticides (Directive 2009/128/EC) (aei_hri)
- Pesticide sales (ESMS metadata file – aei_fm_salpest09_esms)
- Harmonised risk indicator 1 for pesticides (Directive 2009/128/EC) (ESMS metadata file – aei_hri_esms)
- Regulation (EC) No 1185/2009 concerning pesticide statistics, as amended by Commission Regulation (EU) No 2017/269 of 16 February 2017
- Summaries of EU Legislation: Pesticide statistics production
- Commission Communication COM(2006) 508 final – Development of agri-environmental indicators for monitoring the integration of environmental concerns into the common agricultural policy
- Commission Staff working document accompanying COM(2006) 508 final
- EFSA 2020. https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/6057
- Eurostat 2019. Statistics on the agricultural use of pesticides in the EU
- COM(2017) 109 final; Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the implementation of Regulation (EC) No 1185/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2009 concerning statistics on pesticides.
- For an overview of the strategy and related documents see https://ec.europa.eu/food/farm2fork_en
- COM(2017) 587 final: Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on Member State National Action Plans and on progress in the implementation of Directive 2009/128/EC on the sustainable use of pesticides.