Towards a thematic strategy on the sustainable use of pesticides

The Commission lays the foundations for a thematic strategy to reduce the impacts of pesticides on human health and the environment and, more generally, to achieve a more sustainable use of pesticides as well as a significant overall reduction in the risks and uses of pesticides consistent with the necessary crop protection.


Communication of 1 July 2002 from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee - Towards a thematic strategy on the sustainable use of pesticides [COM(2002) 349 final -Not published in the Official Journal].



1. The 6th environment action programme (6th EAP), adopted by the European Parliament and the Council on 22 July 2002, provides for the development of a thematic strategy on the sustainable use of pesticides.

The legislative framework referred to in the 6th EAP, in particular Directive 91/414/EEC and the Directives on residues in food, mainly concentrates on the start and end-of-life stages of pesticides, i.e. the authorisation of substances for use in plant protection products (PPP) before they are placed on the market (prevention at source) and maximum residue levels (MRLs) for food and feedstuffs. Revision of these Directives is under way.

The thematic strategy will therefore complement the existing legislative framework by targeting the use-phase of plant protection products.

Definitions and scope of the communication

2. The term "pesticides" is a generic name, which encompasses all substances or products that kill pests. In this connection, a distinction should be made between:

3. It is clear from the decision of the European Parliament and the Council adopting the 6th EAP that, although the term "pesticides" is used, the main concerns are related to PPPs. Consequently, the communication is focused on the use of PPPs. Should, in the future, comparable measures be considered necessary for biocides, they will be incorporated in the thematic strategy.

Use of PPPs quantities, benefits, costs and risks of using them

4. Quantity. Agriculture is by far the biggest PPP-using sector. With approximately 320 000 tonnes of active substances sold per year, the European Union currently accounts for one quarter of the world market of PPPs. The major types of product are fungicides (ca 43% of the market), followed by herbicides (36%), insecticides (12%) and other pesticides (9%). The European PPP producing industry is a major employer in Europe (around 35 000 workers).

5. Advantages. There are significant economic benefits associated with the use of PPPs. They are used by farmers to improve or safeguard yields by eliminating or reducing competition from weeds and attacks by pests and to minimise labour input. PPPs also play an essential role in ensuring reliable supplies of agricultural products each year at prices which make them affordable for all consumers. The use of PPPs also reduces demand for land for food production. It therefore makes land available for other uses, e.g. amenity, nature parks or protection of biodiversity. There are however no figures available for the whole of the EU on which to base an evaluation of these benefits.

6. Risks and costs associated with their use. Pesticides are chemicals that require particular attention because most of them have inherent properties that make them dangerous to health and the environment.

The risks for human and animal health stem from the extreme toxicity of certain PPPs. They may occur through direct exposure (industrial workers producing pesticides and operators using them) or indirect exposure (consumers and bystanders). The chronic effects of exposure to PPPs which might affect the fitness of exposed populations include those due to bioaccumulation and persistence of substances, irreversible effects such as carcinogenicity, mutagenicity and genotoxicity or adverse effects on the immune or endocrine systems of mammals, fishes or birds.

As regards risks for the environment, spray drift, leaching or run-off are diffuse sources of uncontrolled dissemination of PPPs into the environment leading to pollution of soil and water. PPP use may also have additional indirect effects on ecosystems, e.g. loss of biodiversity. In practice it is extremely difficult to quantify the actual adverse effects resulting from the use of pesticides. Therefore, it is not possible to give a figure for the overall costs of the use of pesticides in the EU.

Objectives of the thematic strategy

7. The communication represents an important step in the preparation of the thematic strategy on sustainable use of pesticides. The objectives fixed by the Council and Parliament are presented below: the communication suggests ways and means of achieving each objective, with a view to initiating discussion at this stage of the consultation:

8. Objective 1. Minimising the hazards and risks to health and environment from the use of pesticides, through:

9. Objective 2. Improved controls on the use and distribution of pesticides:

10. Objective 3. Reducing the levels of harmful active substances by replacing the most dangerous with safer (including non chemical) alternatives: This objective will be achieved basically through faster implementation of Directive 91/414/EEC, in particular through its programme of reevaluating old active substances and through the introduction of this principle in the text of the Directive itself as a result of its revision, planned in the near future.

11. Objective 4. Encouragement of the use of low input or pesticide-free crop farming particularly by raising users' awareness, promoting the use of codes of good practices and consideration of the possible application of financial instruments:

12. Objective 5. A transparent system for reporting and monitoring the progress made, including the development of suitable indicators:

Candidate countries

13. The management of stockpiles of obsolete pesticides in a number of candidate countries has been mentioned repeatedly as an important problem in the context of EU enlargement. Sizeable quantities of pesticides still in use in several candidate countries might become obsolete at the moment of accession. In addition, there are already considerable stocks of obsolete pesticides at the moment. If no appropriate measures are taken, candidate countries might not have adequate incinerators which respect the required emission limits; this will necessitate upgrading of incineration facilities or require transport of pesticides. A proportion of the obsolete pesticides will be covered by the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) but there will probably be a need for further support for the candidate countries.

International aspects

14. The Community and the Member States should contribute to the safe use of PPPs in developing countries and the newly independent States (NIS) by better monitoring and assessing their exports and donations of chemicals, training and stewardship of the use, handling and storage of PPPs and the management of stockpiles of obsolete PPPs, by supporting capacity building and information exchange. Full implementation of the Rotterdam (PIC - prior informed consent) and Stockholm (POPs) Conventions will be major steps in that direction. It also includes strengthening the integration of environmental objectives into development policy and contributing to the achievement of the objectives of the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety.

Implementation of the strategy

15. On the basis of the analyses developed in the communication and the outcome of the consultation process currently under way, the Commission will propose at the beginning of 2004 all necessary measures setting out a Community thematic strategy on the sustainable use of pesticides.

16. The Community and the Member States, in implementing such a strategy, could use many different instruments: legally binding measures, economic incentives, research or voluntary measures. Combination of all types of instruments is also possible. Many of these measures could most effectively be integrated into already existing or currently developing related policy areas, such as water protection, health and consumer protection and the common agricultural policy.


Commission Communication of 12 July 2006 entitled " A Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides " [COM(2006) 372 final - not published in the Official Journal].The strategy comprises, firstly, measures which are incorporated in existing legislative instruments and current policies and, secondly, measures which cannot be incorporated in existing instruments and are the subject of a proposal for a Directive presented in parallel. The measures are intended to meet the five objectives identified above in the 2002 communication.

Last updated: 12.04.2007