Agri-environmental indicator - consumption of pesticides
Data from April 2021
Planned update: May 2022
The total EU pesticide sales volume decreased in 2019, and reached its lowest level since the start of the data collection.
The group 'Fungicides and bactericides' was the most sold group of pesticides in the EU in 2019.
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 2019.
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. Data on sales of pesticides cover agricultural and non-agricultural uses.
- Sales of pesticides had remained more or less stable at around 360 000 tonnes per year in the EU since 2011. In 2019, the lowest total volume sold since the start of the data collection was recorded; 333 500 tonnes. The data on sales of pesticide active substances contain confidential values even when published at the highest aggregation level, i.e. by major group. The confidential values represent < 1 % of the total volume of sales over the entire time series. In 2019, comparatively few major group aggregates were confidential.
- 18 EU Member States provided non-confidential data for all major groups in 2011 and 2019. For the other EU countries, at least one of the highest aggregates 'major group' is confidential and hinders a comparison. Between 2011 and 2019, the total volume of pesticide active substances sold in these 18 EU Member States decreased, by 10.2 %. It is important to note that many of the more hazardous substances have had their authorisation withdrawn, and been removed from the market, following their evaluation under Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 concerning the placing of plant protection products on the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 18 EU Member States which provided non-confidential data for all the major groups, 12 (Denmark, Italy, Portugal, Czechia, Sweden, Romania, Ireland, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Belgium, France and Hungary) decreased their total sales of pesticides, with a decrease of over 40 % recorded for Denmark.
Analysis at EU and country level
In 2019, the lowest volume of pesticides sold in comparison to the available time series was recorded. Since 2011, sales of pesticides had remained relatively stable in the EU countries (Figure 1) but 2019 saw a marked decrease. The total volume sold has annually been around 360 000 tonnes and was 333 500 tonnes in 2019. It should be noted that over the whole time period 2011-2019, < 1 % of the total sales volume are confidential values and therefore not included. However, comparatively few data were confidential in 2019 (Table 1).
Pesticide sales are reported in six major groups of substances (see below under ‘Indicator definition’). The major groups of pesticides that recorded the highest sales volumes both in 2011 and 2019 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 57 % of the total EU utilised agricultural area (UAA), and 52 % of the total EU arable land.
There were 18 EU countries (Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Sweden) that provided non-confidential data for all major groups in both 2011 and 2019 (Table 1). Together they recorded sales of 346 149 tonnes of pesticide active substances in 2011, and in 2019 they recorded 310 739 tonnes, i.e. 93% of the total EU sales of pesticides in 2019 are accounted for by these countries. The decrease in the total volume of pesticides sold in these 18 countries in 2019 compared to 2011 was 10.2 %.
There are big differences between countries; in 2019 the volume of pesticides sold in Denmark was 42 % lower than in 2011 (Figure 2). Italy, Portugal, Czechia, Sweden and Romania reported more than 20 % lower pesticide sales in 2019. On the other hand, Cyprus, Latvia and Austria reported significantly higher sales of pesticides in 2019 than in 2011. It should be noted that the volumes of pesticides sold in Cyprus and Latvia in absolute terms are very low (Table 1). In Austria, large volumes of inert gases used in storage of agricultural products inflate the total volume of pesticides sold.
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 2019, 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 (54.0 %) 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’ (61.8 %) in 2019. This is a large category containing over 60 active substances, including e.g. glyphosate and iron sulphate. The next largest category was 'Herbicides based on amides and anilides' (14.5 %).
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’. The next largest category was 'Insecticides based on organophosphates' (12.6 %).
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. These data are, however, not available today. Supporting this indicator are the volumes sold, which can be used in agriculture and in other sectors such as forestry or on public/private areas. 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 Community provisions on preservatives (e.g. extending the life of cut flowers);
- 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). However, there is no harmonised way to convert the units micro-organisms are often expressed in, colony-forming unit (CFU) or international unit (IU), into kilogram (kg). This limits the possibilities to monitor the use of these pesticide active substances and micro-biological substances are not included in the data used for this article.
Data on sales of pesticides cover 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 2011-2019, < 1 % of the volume is confidential data.
Member States are obliged to publish their national pesticide statistics on the Internet. Eurostat has collected the links to these websites and this compilation is available as an annex to the European metadata file.
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 chemical pesticides.
Member States monitor pesticide residues in food and feed relative to European maximum residue limits (MRLs) and in 2019 96.1 % of the around 96 000 samples analysed fell within the legal limits. The European Food Safety Authority write that the findings suggest that the residue levels for the food commodities analysed are unlikely to pose any concern for consumer health.
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, statistical data on the agricultural use of pesticides are available by Member State, but are not harmonised on a European scale. Under Regulation (EC) No 1185/2009 concerning pesticide statistics, countries deliver data on the agricultural use by crop every five years. However, the choice of crops monitored and the reference year vary between countries. 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 action plan of the strategy, the Commission proposed a revision of the pesticides statistics regulation to overcome data gaps and reinforce evidence-based policy making. The legal instrument chosen for this is the proposal adopted by the Commission on 2 February 2021, for a Regulation on statistics on agricultural input and output.
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 8.5 % 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)
- Pesticides (aei_pes)
- Pesticide sales (aei_fm_salpest09)
- Pesticide use in agriculture (aei_pestuse)
- Harmonised risk indicator 1 for pesticides by categorisation of active substances (Directive 2009/128/EC) (aei_hri)
- Pesticides (aei_pes)
- Pesticide sales (ESMS metadata file – aei_fm_salpest09_esms)
- Pesticide use in agriculture (ESMS metadata file – aei_pestuse_esms)
- Harmonised risk indicator 1 for pesticides by categorisation of active substances (Directive 2009/128/EC) (ESMS metadata file – aei_hri_esms)
- Regulation (EC) No 1185/2009 concerning pesticide statistics, as amended by Commission Regulation (EU) 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
- For an overview of the strategy and related documents see https://ec.europa.eu/food/farm2fork_en
- COM(2021) 37 https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:52021PC0037
- 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.