Sustainable use of plant protection products: limited progress in measuring and reducing risks
About the report:
Plant protection products (PPPs) are pesticides used to protect crops. The EU framework aims to achieve sustainable use of PPPs by reducing risks and impacts on human health and environment and promoting integrated pest management. We found that the Commission and Member States have taken action to promote the sustainable use of PPPs but there has been limited progress in measuring and reducing the associated risks. Applying integrated pest management is compulsory for farmers, but not a requirement for receiving payments under the common agricultural policy and enforcement is weak. Available EU statistics and new risk indicators do not show how successful the policy has been in achieving a sustainable use of PPPs. We make recommendations related to verifying integrated pest management at farm level, improving PPP statistics and developing better risk indicators.
ECA special report pursuant to Article 287(4), second subparagraph, TFEU.
Plant protection products (PPP) are pesticides which farmers use to protect crops against harmful organisms, pests and diseases. In the EU, sales of the active substances used in PPPs exceed 350 000 tons per year. PPPs can impact water and soil quality, biodiversity and ecosystems, and they can end up as residues in food.II
Since 1991, the EU has built up a framework of legislation to authorise PPP, promote their sustainable use and reduce the risk that using PPP poses for human health and the environment. The Commission approves active substances that can be used in PPPs authorised in the Member States and checks that Member States implement the relevant EU legislation. It also promotes integrated pest management to encourage the use of preventive, natural or other non-chemical methods of pest control before turning to PPPs.III
The Commission is currently evaluating the legislation in this policy area against a background of increasing public and parliamentary concern regarding the risks associated with the use of pesticides. Our work was designed to complement this process.IV
Our main objective was to assess whether EU action has reduced the risk related to PPP use. The Commission and Member States have taken action to promote the sustainable use of PPPs. However, we found that there is limited progress in measuring and reducing the risks of PPP use. Our work showed that EU action for sustainable use of PPPs was off to a slow start and allowed us to identify weaknesses in the current EU framework, as set out in this report.V
We examined whether EU legislation provided effective incentives to reduce PPP dependency. EU rules require farmers to apply integrated pest management, meaning that they should only turn to PPPs if prevention and other methods fail or are not effective. Although it is compulsory for farmers to apply integrated pest management, they are not required to keep records of how they applied it and enforcement is weak.VI
The common agricultural policy can help support sustainable PPP use through, for example, compulsory farm advisory systems and by providing financial support to measures such as organic farming and environmental schemes. Linking payments under the common agricultural policy to legal requirements can help in enforcing those rules, but applying integrated pest management is currently not a requirement for receiving payments under the common agricultural policy.VII
Giving farmers access to alternative methods and lower risk products can help them in applying integrated pest management. The EU created a category of ‘low-risk PPP’ in 2009, but few of these have been made available for use to date.VIII
We examined whether the Commission and Member States measured the risk and environmental impacts of PPP use and found that data collected and made available was not sufficient to allow effective monitoring. Available EU statistics on PPP sales are aggregated on a too high level to be useful and those on the agricultural use of PPP were not comparable.IX
In November 2019, the Commission published its estimate of two new harmonised risk indicators. Neither indicator shows the extent to which the directive has been successful in achieving the EU objective of sustainable use of PPPs.X
Based on these findings, we recommend that the Commission should:
- check that the Member States convert the general principles of integrated pest management into practical criteria and that they verify them at farm level, allowing them to be linked to payments under the common agricultural policy in the post-2020 period;
- improve statistics on PPPs when revising the legislation to make them more accessible, useful and comparable; and
- to assess the progress made towards policy objectives, improve the harmonised risk indicators, or develop new ones, taking account of the use of PPPs.
EU policy on plant protection products01
Plant protection products (PPP) are pesticides used to combat harmful organisms, pests and diseases, influence the life processes of plants, preserve plant products, or destroy or prevent growth of undesired plants or parts of plants. PPPs include insecticides, fungicides and herbicides.02
Using PPPs can put pressure on the environment; it can pose risks to ground and surface water quality, soil quality, biodiversity, ecosystems and to human health, including through residues in food. PPPs sprayed on fields can enter the surrounding land and water (see Figure 1). PPPs affect plants and animals and can contribute to biodiversity loss1, including reductions in insect populations. For example, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services identified PPPs as one of the drivers of a declining pollinators’ population2.
Since 1991, the EU has had common rules on authorisation and use of PPPs (Member States previously had their own laws). Annex I sets out the most important EU legislation on PPPs. All PPPs undergo a two-step authorisation procedure: the Commission first approves active substances; after that, Member States can authorise commercial forms of PPPs containing approved active substances (see Annex II). EU approval criteria state that PPPs shall not have any harmful effects on human or animal health, and no unacceptable effects on the environment.04
Member States regularly provide PPP statistics to the Commission and Eurostat publishes annual EU statistics related to active substances contained in PPPs sold3. Figure 2 shows that overall EU sales of the active substances used in PPP has remained rather stable in recent years. However, PPP sales do not directly correlate with the risks and impacts associated with their use. Risks and impacts posed by PPPs vary depending on their active substances, but also their composition and where, when and how users apply them in practice.
The 2009 directive on sustainable use of pesticides4 (‘the directive’) establishes a framework to achieve sustainable use of PPPs by reducing the risks and impacts of PPP use on human health and the environment and promoting integrated pest management (IPM).06
IPM is a concept stemming from the 1970s that focuses in particular on preventing pest infestation and takes advantage of sustainable farming practices such as rotating different crops and selecting pest resistant seeds. It also includes monitoring of pests and setting sound threshold values that help to decide whether and when pest control is needed. Compared to routine application of PPPs, IPM is a more environmentally friendly approach combining ‘common sense’ practices. IPM is a means to reduce PPP dependency: when applying IPM, farmers use chemical PPPs only if necessary after exhausting preventive, physical, biological or other non-chemical methods of pest control (see Figure 3). IPM is an important part of the EU’s PPP policy and became mandatory in 20145.
Facilitating use of alternative methods and access to lower risk products can help to support more sustainable pest control. The 2009 PPP regulation6 (‘the PPP regulation’) introduced the concept of low-risk PPPs. To be authorised as low-risk, a PPP can only contain active substances approved as low-risk7 and may not contain any ‘substances of concern’. As of September 2019, 16 active substances were approved as low-risk (3 % of the approved active substances). In addition, the PPP regulation introduced the concept of ‘basic substances’; the EU has approved 20 such substances that are predominantly used for purposes other than plant protection (e.g. in food).08
The Commission, Member States and PPP users (e.g. farmers) all play a role in the EU’s PPP policy. Figure 4 sets out some of the key responsibilities relevant for this report.
Audit scope and approach09
We decided to carry out an audit in the area of the EU’s PPP policy because of increasing interest from the public and our stakeholders (including the European Parliament). The Commission is currently evaluating the legislation in this policy area, and we expect our report to complement this evaluation.10
Our main objective was to assess whether EU action has reduced the risk related to PPP use, focusing on the period following the 2009 revision of the EU PPP framework (see Annex I for a list of related key EU rules). To answer this question, we examined whether:
- the EU framework provides incentives to reduce PPP dependency, including enforcing IPM and discouraging the use of ‘standard’ and higher risk PPPs; and
- the Commission and Member States measure the risk and environmental impacts of PPP use.
We did not seek to re-evaluate scientific assessments of PPPs.11
We carried out the audit from February to September 2019. Our audit work included structured interviews at the Commission (Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, Directorate-General for Environment and Eurostat) and the European Food Safety Authority, document reviews and information visits to three Member States (France, Lithuania and the Netherlands). We selected these Member States based on geographical zones (South, North and Central)8 to reflect differences in agricultural practices and conditions as well as in efforts to reduce risks related to PPP use (promotion of IPM, research, financial support) and in the number of low-risk PPPs authorised. We visited Switzerland to understand how a non-EU country incorporates IPM-related conditions into direct payments to farmers. We reviewed 18 Member State national action plans9 related to reducing the risks of PPP use and 2014-2020 rural development programmes for measures related to PPPs and IPM, and interviewed 33 farmers selected at random for our Statement of Assurance exercise.
Sustainable use of plant protection products affected by a slow start
The first steps in putting the directive into practice were delayed12
The 2009 directive establishes a framework to achieve sustainable use of PPPs and to promote IPM, including using alternative approaches and non-chemical methods. Member States had two years to transpose it into national law10.13
The Commission checked the timeliness of the transposition and initiated infringement procedures against the two Member States11 that, by 2012, had not yet transposed the directive. However, the Commission did not check the completeness or correctness of Member States’ transposition. For example, we found that while France took measures to implement the directive, including promoting IPM, the IPM requirements have not been transposed into French law.14
By 26 November 2012, the Member States had to prepare national action plans setting out, among other things, their quantitative objectives, targets and timelines for reducing the risks and impacts of PPP use. Figure 5 sets out key events and shows the timeline for putting the directive into practice.
While just a third of the Member States submitted their national action plans to the Commission in line with the deadline, they had all submitted them by February 2014. The Commission sent warning letters to all Member States, raising weaknesses in their first national action plans and problematic areas in implementing the directive. The Commission did not submit its first report to the European Parliament and Council12, due in November 2014, until October 2017.16
Member States have to review and, if needed, update their national action plans every five years. The deadlines for this review depend on the timing of the initial plans and range from 2016 to 2019, since Member States submitted their initial national action plans to the Commission on different dates. Nearly three-quarters of the Member States were late with their review (eleven of them more than one year), based on their individual deadlines. At the time of our audit, the Commission was preparing its second report (due in November 2018) to the European Parliament and the Council.
The Commission has taken increased action since 201617
Since 2016, the Commission has taken increased action to promote and enforce implementation of the directive. Commission initiatives include assessing national action plans and monitoring Member State actions to put the directive into practice.18
The Commission sent a questionnaire to the Member States and visited six of them to collect information on the implementation of the directive. An overview report13 summarises main findings, gives examples of good practice on for example water protection, training and IPM and identifies the main obstacles facing Member States in implementing the directive. Several Member States reported difficulties with checking IPM and lack of financially viable, effective non-chemical control techniques as hindrances to putting IPM into practice. In 2018, the Commission moved from fact-finding visits to compliance audits, and started making recommendations and requesting corrective action from Member States.19
The Commission regularly invites Member State authorities to meetings to discuss implementation of the directive. It has launched a web portal for sustainable use of PPPs, which includes key information, national action plans and links to official Member State websites14.20
Research and innovation activities are important to ensure that alternative pest management methods and low-risk PPPs are available to implement IPM. The EU supports research to make available economically feasible alternative pest control methods. Horizon 2020, the EU research programme, includes calls for projects related to strategies, tools and technologies for sustainable weed management, alternatives to PPP use and for IPM. The European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural productivity and Sustainability aims to integrate different funding streams and bring together farmers, advisors, researchers, agribusinesses, nongovernmental organisations and other actors as partners in agricultural innovation. The resulting network connects large-scale research and innovation projects financed under Horizon 2020 with smaller operational groups working at national and regional level, with the aim of bridging the gap between research and practice.
EU action provides weak incentives for farmers to adopt integrated pest management
The Commission and Member States promote IPM but its enforcement is weak21
One important measure in achieving sustainable use of PPPs is IPM. EU rules define IPM as a set of eight general principles (see Annex III) aimed at using other preventive, natural or less harmful methods of pest control before turning to chemical PPPs (see also Figure 3). The possibility to refer to IPM on PPP labels is a way to raise awareness. During our Member State visits, we only found one example of indications directly related to IPM: some labels in Lithuania included instructions aimed at avoiding pests becoming resistant to the PPP in question.22
The Commission and Member States have taken action to promote and spread awareness about IPM. All the national action plans we reviewed included information about training activities, knowledge sharing and tools for pest monitoring and decision-making. For example, pest monitoring and early warning systems are an integral part of IPM, as they help farmers to apply preventive and more targeted pest control measures. The Commission found that most (24) Member States had publicly funded systems in place for forecasting, warning and early diagnosis for pest and disease control. For example, Lithuania developed an interactive IT system combining different aspects of supporting PPP users in applying IPM (see Figure 6).
EU rules require PPP users to apply the general principles of IPM15, and Member States had to describe in their national action plans how they would ensure that all professional users16 applied the IPM principles by January 201417. The Commission noted shortcomings in ensuring application of IPM in the initial national action plans and in its 2017 report to the European Parliament and Council (see paragraph 15), it indicated that Member States should develop criteria to assess whether farmers had applied IPM. Our review showed that most (12 out of 18) of the revised national action plans did not describe how the Member States ensure that all professional users implement the general principles of IPM.24
In 2009, the Commission used an external contractor to prepare a guidance document18 for establishing IPM principles. The document aimed to assist Member States in considering IPM in their national action plans and offered guidance on monitoring compliance. Nevertheless, the national action plans mainly focused on training, advisory activities and awareness-raising to increase understanding of IPM. The national action plans did not set specific requirements translating the general IPM principles into actions that could be checked in practice.25
Professional PPP users have to keep records of the products they use for at least three years19. IPM principle number 8 requires them to check the success of their plant protection measures based on records of PPP use and on pest monitoring. There is no EU requirement for users to keep records of other IPM actions, and the Commission has encouraged Member States to introduce such obligations in national law. Only a few Member States have done so (see example in Box 1).
Irish farmers maintain IPM records
In Ireland, all professional users must keep records to prove implementation of IPM20. Farmers record the reason for using PPPs, including information e.g. on the type of pest present, preventative measures taken, resistance management, thresholds applied and crop damage.
The Commission identified enforcement of IPM as a weakness during its 2018 and 2019 Member State audits. Most (27 out of 33) of the farmers we interviewed said that they were familiar with IPM and that they applied the principles on their farms, indicating a significant awareness of the concept amongst farmers. However, the Member States we visited could not confirm the proportion of users complying with the IPM principles, and they do not check this during inspections. Assessing compliance requires expertise and is difficult because it depends on the crop, soil type, farm size and external factors such as weather and type of pest.27
Member States are required to lay down the rules on penalties for breaches of PPP rules. Of the three Member States we visited, only the Netherlands had defined penalties related to IPM. The Commission’s audits and our Member State visits showed no good examples of checking that farmers apply the IPM principles. See Box 2 for examples from the Member States we visited.
Few Member States check application of IPM principles
In France, PPP inspections cover the use of monitoring methods and tools and whether farmers use biological PPPs and methods aimed at reducing the use of chemical PPPs, but no penalties have been defined for related non-compliances.
In Lithuania, inspectors fill in an IPM questionnaire to collect information on farmers’ knowledge and practical implementation of IPM. Inspectors verify replies with supporting documents and other evidence where possible. However, they do not assess compliance with IPM principles and, consequently, they neither detect infringements of IPM requirements nor apply penalties.
In the Netherlands, inspectors check that PPP users have documented their considerations related to IPM in a ‘plant protection monitor’, which users may do in any form they choose. However, the inspectors do not verify the content by checking underlying documents. The Dutch rules set fines for not filling in the plant protection monitor, but in practice, the authorities did not apply any in 2017 despite having found 20 % of the users they checked to be non-compliant.
The common agricultural policy does little to help enforce IPM28
At the Commission, the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development is responsible for the common agricultural policy (CAP). The CAP includes instruments that can support farmers’ sustainable use of PPPs. For example:
- Member States have to set up farm advisory systems to offer advice to all farmers, including on IPM;
- farmers with more than 15 hectares of arable land who receive direct payments should maintain ecological focus areas on 5 % of their arable land and since 2018, may not use PPPs on these areas; and
- specific programmes for the fruit and vegetable sector promote the uptake of IPM.
In addition, Member States can use CAP measures financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development to promote sustainable use of PPPs, including IPM. Such measures include agri-environment and climate commitments, where Member States can grant payments for input management (PPPs and/or fertilisers) and sustainable farming practices in the context of integrated farming. Member States can also use the CAP to support organic farming, referred to in the directive as a type of ‘low pesticide-input pest management’21. The area under organic farming represents 7 % of total EU agricultural land22. Other relevant measures include support for investments in, for example, precision farming equipment. Member States plan specific measures in rural development programmes.30
Most CAP payments are subject to ‘cross-compliance’23. Cross-compliance is a mechanism linking CAP payments to compliance by farmers with basic standards concerning the environment, food safety, animal and plant health and animal welfare, as well as the requirement to maintain land in good agricultural and environmental condition. Linking CAP payments to legal requirements can help in enforcing those rules.31
Member States must check compliance with cross-compliance rules and carry out on-the-spot visits to at least 1 % of farmers receiving CAP payments. Cross-compliance does not mean that CAP payments are conditional upon meeting these basic standards, but Member States impose administrative penalties on beneficiaries who do not comply. Administrative penalties are in practice reductions, not exceeding 5 % for breaches due to negligence. Reoccurring breaches can result in higher penalties and, if the non-compliance is intentional, the reduction could be 20 % or higher24.32
Cross-compliance for the 2014-2020 CAP requires that PPP users comply with conditions established on the labels and take into account local conditions25 but it does not incorporate the directive including application of the IPM principles. Other cross-compliance requirements, such as buffer strips and protection of groundwater, are also relevant for sustainable PPP use. In comparison, to receive direct payments in Switzerland, farmers have to show ‘proof of ecological performance’26 similar to the general principles of IPM defined in the directive. As part of their inspections, the Swiss authorities verify requirements related to protecting soil and promoting biodiversity, establishing and recording pest thresholds and to the appropriate choice of PPP and justification for use and, for farmers with more than three hectares of arable land, crop rotation.33
Recital 35 of the PPP regulation states that the principles of IPM should be included in cross-compliance. At the beginning of the 2014-2020 CAP period, the legislator27 invited the Commission, once all Member States had implemented the directive and the obligations directly applicable to farmers had been identified, to propose amending the CAP rules to include relevant parts of the directive in cross-compliance. The Commission did not make such proposal for the 2014-2020 CAP.34
The Commission’s post-2020 CAP proposal expands the link between CAP payments and statutory requirements (‘conditionality’28) related to PPPs. It would partially cover sustainable use but it would not incorporate the IPM principles. The new statutory management requirement 13 would refer to the directive and cover, related to PPPs, the establishment of certification systems, inspection of equipment, restrictions on use in protected areas, and handling and storage. The proposed ‘good agricultural and environmental condition’ 8 would require crop rotation to preserve soil potential.35
The proposed ‘conditionality’, just as the current mechanism of ‘cross-compliance’, does not mean that CAP payments are conditional upon meeting these rules. Instead, Member States would impose administrative penalties on beneficiaries who do not comply with these requirements. Linking CAP payments to applying IPM can help in ensuring that farmers put it into practice.
Non-chemical methods are evolving, but the number of low-risk PPPs is low36
There is an increased focus on non-chemical methods, and many Member States promote concepts such as bio-control (France) and bio-pesticides (the Netherlands). The directive states that IPM ‘encourages natural pest control’29, and the IPM principles indicate that biological methods should be preferred to chemical ones30. Whenever possible, priority should be given to non-chemical methods31, defined as alternative methods including biological pest control32. EU legislation also mentions biological products33, but it does not include a definition of biological pest control or of biological products.37
The EU concept of low-risk PPPs focuses on risk, but the nature of the active substance makes a difference for the approval procedure. For example, assessing microorganisms requires different data than is needed to assess chemical substances. EU rules include separate data requirements and assessment principles for microorganisms34, and the Commission has set up a working group to assess the data requirements and assessment principles with a view to updating them.38
While most low-risk PPPs contain microorganisms, many ‘biological’ PPPs are not categorised as low-risk. For example, in France, as of June 2019, 481 PPPs were authorised as bio-control and 23 as low-risk. One reason for this is that many of the bio-control PPPs include active substances approved before the introduction of the low-risk concept in EU legislation35, but the approval process also shows that not all non-chemical active substances meet the low-risk criteria.39
As of September 2019, there are 48736 active substances approved for use in PPPs in the EU but only 16 (3 %) of them approved as low-risk. Of the approved active substances, the Commission identified 57 as potentially low-risk37, and prioritised their renewal over that of other active substances38. The Commission and many Member States promote low-risk PPPs. However, in France, such promotion measures (e.g. exemption from ban on commercial advertising) are directed towards bio-control rather than low-risk PPPs. Some of the farmers (14 of 33) we interviewed had heard about low-risk PPPs, but none of them had used any. By contrast, all interviewed farmers had heard about (or used) biological, physical (mechanical) or other non-chemical methods of pest control.40
Not all PPPs based on the 16 low-risk active substances are themselves authorised as low-risk. One reason for this is that, besides active substances, PPPs contain other ingredients known as ‘co-formulants’. For a PPP to be authorised as low-risk, all co-formulants have to be ‘of no concern’. Another is that some PPPs are subject to ‘specific mitigation measures’39 which have been identified as necessary in a risk assessment. Risk mitigation measures are aimed at minimising human and environmental exposure to a PPP, for example by wearing protective equipment such as gloves or respecting an unsprayed buffer zone. ‘General risk mitigation measures’ are those considered normal precaution and do not prevent PPPs from being authorised as low-risk.41
Our audit work shows that the visited Member States sometimes assess mitigation measures differently. For example, in the Netherlands two PPPs containing the low-risk active substance ferric phosphate were not authorised as low-risk because it was considered necessary to wear protective gloves. The Dutch authorities considered this to be a specific mitigation measure. France and Lithuania have authorised both PPPs as low-risk. The labelling requirements include wearing protective gloves, but the Member State authorities consider this a normal precaution. EU rules do not define what counts as a ‘specific mitigation measure’ (as opposed to a ‘general mitigation measure’), and there is no guidance on the subject.42
EU rules include an accelerated timeline for the authorisation of low-risk PPPs. Data from the three Member States we visited shows that the authorisation of low-risk PPPs is faster than authorisation of ‘standard’ PPPs (see Figure 7).
In order to help farmers access low-risk PPPs and to promote IPM, the Council in 2016 endorsed an ‘Implementation Plan on increasing low-risk plant protection product availability and accelerating integrated pest management implementation in Member States’. The plan sets 40 actions for the Commission, Member States and external stakeholders. The actions for low-risk PPPs focused on speeding up the authorisation procedure, considering reduced fees and providing guidance. The Expert Group on Sustainable Plant Protection presented the status of the actions taken in a progress report40. The implementation plan has increased awareness among Member States, the Commission and stakeholders of the low-risk concept, but the number of low-risk PPPs remains small.
The Commission did not start calculating EU-wide risk indicators for the use of plant protection products until 2019
Member States monitor active substances in water, but there is no EU-wide data on PPP use44
Environmental monitoring is necessary to confirm that there are no unacceptable effects or risks for the environment resulting from PPP use. Environmental monitoring provides a warning system and complements the risk assessment carried out during the authorisation procedure41.45
Member States can require PPP producers to monitor the effects of authorised PPPs42. The Commission does not have an overview of such monitoring. In practice, Member States mainly carry out environmental monitoring under other legislation, including EU rules on water monitoring43. Member States must monitor several active substances, and relevant residues in ground, surface and drinking water.46
For surface water, the EU defines substances that Member States must monitor; 36 of these are active substances, of which ten are currently approved for use in PPPs44. Member States have to monitor additional substances beyond those specified by EU law, if emitted in significant quantities. For example, the Netherlands has an extensive water monitoring system and complements the monitoring of the EU defined substances with an additional 16 active substances deemed problematic in their surface waters (12 of which are currently approved for use in PPPs in the EU).47
EU rules do not define active substances to monitor in soil45; however, the Commission recently gathered soil samples as part of a land use survey. The Joint Research Centre will analyse these samples46.48
Member States gather statistics for sales and agricultural use of PPPs. EU law requires them to collect data annually on active substances contained in PPPs sold, and to compile statistics on the agricultural use of PPPs for selected crops during a reference period every five years47. The Member States transmit statistics on each active substance to Eurostat. Under EU rules on statistical confidentiality, confidential data may be used only for statistical purposes48, and detailed statistics may not expose the identity of ‘statistical units’ (in this case: individual PPP producers or users). In relation to PPPs, however, EU legislation is even more restrictive, requiring Eurostat to aggregate active substances in a specific way before publication49 and preventing it from publishing detailed statistics or sharing them with other Directorates-General.49
Publicly available EU PPP statistics relate to active substances contained in PPPs sold. These are aggregated into major groups, such as insecticides, fungicides and herbicides, based on the EU legislation referred to above. This means, for example, that the Commission cannot publish information on individual active substances or on the proportion of substances approved as low-risk.50
In some countries (e.g. France), sales data for individual active substances is publicly available. The Commission supports publishing sales figures on all individual active substances that are not protected by statistical confidentiality50.51
Eurostat has not so far published EU-wide statistics collected by each Member State on PPP use. Member States send statistics on agricultural use of PPPs to the Commission (Eurostat) every five years51, starting from 2015. Member States are required to gather statistics on agricultural use of PPP for a reference period of maximum 12 months chosen by the Member State at any time within a five-year period. Member States also select the crops to monitor, meaning that data are not comparable between Member States. The wide variety of crops and reference periods chosen by Member States for their use statistics prevented Eurostat from usefully combining and comparing the data, and it therefore opted to publish only a selection of the use data52.52
Sales data per active substance (instead of aggregated into groups as currently required by EU rules) could help to select substances to monitor and to target environmental monitoring. Better statistics on PPP use could help in interpreting monitoring results and these results would be more meaningful when assessing risks from use of authorised PPPs. Statistics that are more detailed would help the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety to follow market trends and to analyse the potential impact of approval decisions. It could also help in developing more useful assessments of the overall risks associated with using PPPs.
The usefulness of the EU-wide PPP risk indicators is limited53
The EU policy framework aims to ‘achieve a sustainable use of pesticides by reducing the risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment’. However, it does not define ‘sustainable use’, and the aim to ‘reduce the risks and impacts of pesticide use’ is not translated into a specific quantified EU target. Setting specific and measurable objectives and targets is useful in order to assess a policy’s performance against the desired outcome.54
The Member States have to include quantitative objectives and targets in their national action plans to achieve the aims of the directive. The Commission during its assessment noted great variation in the quality of the initial national action plans and shortcomings in setting measurable targets. Our review of 18 revised national action plans showed that twelve of them include action-based or compliance-based quantitative objectives and targets. Few (2 out of 18) of them have quantified overall objectives or targets to reduce use of or risks related to PPP.55
EU-wide risk indicators are necessary to measure progress in meeting the main objective of the directive: reducing the risks and impacts of PPP use. Measuring risk is complex as the risks posed by PPPs vary according to several factors, particularly their active substances, but also their composition, application rate (i.e. quantity per hectare and frequency) and where, when and how users apply them in practice. The EU-wide risk indicators need to be harmonised to allow comparison between Member States and a meaningful assessment of the EU’s policy.56
The directive requires Member States to calculate harmonised risk indicators, identify trends in the use of certain active substances and identify priority items that require particular attention. However, the directive itself did not establish any such harmonised risk indicators; the legislator adopted it in 2009 with an empty Annex (‘Annex IV – Harmonised risk indicators’).57
Some Member States have developed national indicators for measuring risks and impact. Such national indicators are useful for measuring progress towards Member States’ objectives and targets but not comparable across Member States, which is why harmonised risk indicators are useful to measure EU-wide risk and impact.58
Initial Commission attempts to develop indicators were unsuccessful due to the lack of data. In 2018, the Commission proposed two harmonised risk indicators, which came into force in June 201953. The two indicators are aimed at estimating trends in the overall risk from PPP use, for each Member State and EU-wide. The Commission published the retrospective calculations of the risk indicators from 2011 on its website54 in November 2019. This means that the Commission’s first estimate of EU-wide risks from PPP use came ten years after adoption of the directive.59
Neither indicator takes into account how, where and when these PPPs are used as this information is not available to the Commission. One indicator is based on PPP sales statistics and the other is based on the number of emergency authorisations. Member States can grant emergency authorisations without carrying out the standard authorisation procedure if pests cause a danger that cannot be contained in any other reasonable way. Emergency authorisations can relate to PPPs already authorised for other uses or PPPs containing approved active substances not yet authorised in the specific Member State granting the emergency authorisation.60
For both indicators, active substances are categorised, based on the PPP regulation, into four groups (‘low-risk’, ‘standard’, ‘candidates for substitution’ and ‘not approved’) with different weightings (see illustration in Figure 8). For PPPs containing active substances that are ‘candidates for substitution’ Member States have to refuse or restrict authorisation where less harmful alternatives are available55. The aim is to promote less harmful substances and provide industry incentives to develop less hazardous alternatives.61
The weighting is intended to reflect policy choices and to support the objective of the directive to reduce the risks and impacts of PPP. Some Member States raised concerns regarding justification of these weightings. They questioned the scientific rationale for the weightings. A different weighting factor would change the result of the indicators.
The harmonised risk indicators are presented as indices (baseline 100) to make it possible to follow risk trends from 2011 and to protect confidential data. The Commission’s graph for the harmonised risk indicator based on sales shows a risk reduction resulting mainly from reduced sales of the substances in the category ‘not approved’. The weighting factors chosen increase the estimated risk reduction resulting from reduced sales of higher risk substances. The indicator does not show how successful the directive has been in achieving the EU objective of sustainable use of PPPs.63
The Commission told us that it intends to improve the risk indicators; access to better statistics and data on PPP use could help it in doing so.
Conclusions and recommendations64
Overall, the Commission and Member States have taken action to promote the sustainable use of PPPs. However, we found that there is limited progress in measuring and reducing the risks of PPP use. Implementation of the sustainable use part of the EU’s PPP policy was affected by a slow start. The Commission did not check proper Member State transposition of the directive (see paragraphs 12 to 16).65
In recent years, both the Commission and Member States have taken increased action intended to reduce the risk related to PPP use including efforts to put IPM into practice (see paragraphs 17 to 20).66
Applying the IPM principles is mandatory for users, but Member State compliance checks have a limited scope. One reason for the lack of enforcement is that there are no clear criteria as to how users should apply the general principles of IPM or how the authorities should assess compliance (see paragraphs 21 to 27).67
Several CAP measures can contribute to the implementation of the directive, for example by promoting IPM and organic farming. CAP rules also require Member States to establish farm advisory systems and provide advice on IPM to all farmers. However, while the IPM principles are mandatory for farmers, they are not included as a condition for CAP payments. Despite encouragement for more sustainable farming practices, there are few measures deterring farmers from using ‘standard’ PPPs rather than turning to non-chemical or alternative methods (see paragraphs 28 to 35).Recommendation 1 – Enable IPM enforcement
The Commission should
- check that the Member States convert the general IPM principles into practical and measurable criteria and that they verify these criteria at farm level; and
- incorporate these measurable IPM criteria into ‘conditionality’ in the post-2020 CAP and ensure they are enforced.
When applying IPM, users should turn to PPPs only if prevention and other methods fail or are not effective. If pest-monitoring shows a need for control measures, EU rules indicate that biological, physical and other non-chemical methods must be preferred to chemical ones. EU legislation also mentions biological pest control and biological products concepts but does not define them. The concept of low-risk PPP was introduced in 2009 but to date, few active substances are approved as low-risk. The Commission and Member States are taking actions to increase availability of low risk PPPs but there is a need for further efforts to meet the timelines set for authorisation (see paragraphs 36 to 40).69
Environmental monitoring is important to confirm that there are no unacceptable effects or risks for the environment resulting from PPP use. EU monitoring of PPPs in the environment focuses mainly on water (see paragraphs 44 to 47).70
PPP statistics published by Eurostat relate to active substances contained in PPPs sold, grouped in a specific way defined in EU legislation. This limits the information Eurostat can publish or even share with other Directorates-General of the Commission to a greater degree than can be justified by statistical confidentiality alone. Statistics collected on agricultural use of PPPs under current EU legislation are not comparable, and Eurostat has to date not been able to publish EU-wide use statistics (see paragraphs 48 to 51).71
Better data on sales and use of PPPs, including more geographical information, could be used to improve measuring of related environmental risks and impact, including for example in water bodies used for abstraction of drinking water. Access to more monitoring data could help in targeting activities to address environmental impact of PPP use (see paragraph 52).Recommendation 2 – Improve access to PPP statistics
To improve statistics and environmental monitoring, the Commission should address the following issues when revising the PPP statistics regulation:
- removing restrictive aggregation requirements for PPP statistics (Article 3(4)) to allow publication of more useful statistics (e.g. low-risk PPPs and active substances with specific properties); and
- clarifying, improving and harmonising the requirements for EU statistics on agricultural use of PPPs (Annex II) to make it more available, comparable and useful.
The objective of the directive is to reduce the risks and impacts related to PPP use. In November 2019, the Commission published its estimation of the EU-wide risks and impacts related to PPP use by calculating the two recently adopted harmonised risk indicators (see paragraphs 53 to 58). Neither of the indicators show the extent to which the directive has been successful in achieving the EU objective of sustainable use of PPPs.73
The first indicator’s (using sales statistics for active substances contained in PPPs as a basis) usefulness is limited by not taking into account how, when and where PPPs are used. Confidentiality rules also limit detailed and useful analysis.74
The second indicator is based on number of emergency authorisations granted by Member States. Although it can be valuable to collect data on the number of emergency authorisations, the number of authorisations does not say anything about use or associated risks (see paragraphs 59 to 63).Recommendation 3 – Develop better risk indicators
To assess the progress made towards policy objectives, the Commission should improve the harmonised risk indicators, or develop new ones that take into account, for Harmonised Risk Indicator II, agricultural areas or volumes of active substance, for Harmonised Risk Indicator I, the way PPPs are used.
This Report was adopted by Chamber I, headed by Mr Nikolaos Milionis, Member of the Court of Auditors, in Luxembourg at its meeting of 8 January 2020.
For the Court of Auditors
Annex I – Key EU rules on PPPs
- 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 and repealing Council Directives 79/117/EEC and 91/414/EEC
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Regulation (EC) No 1185/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2009 concerning statistics on pesticides
Annex II – Key steps in assessing PPP safety in the EU
EU approval of active substance
Company X submits an application for the approval of active substance Y to an EU Member State, with the intention of including it in plant protection product (PPP) Z. The rapporteur Member State (RMS) scientifically and technically evaluates the active substance and prepares an assessment report.
The European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) is in charge of risk assessment. It conducts a public consultation and, together with the EU Member States, carries out a peer review of the assessment report prepared by the RMS. EFSA sends its conclusions to the European Commission.
The Commission is in charge of risk management. Based on EFSAs conclusions, it proposes whether or not to approve substance Y to a regulatory Committee composed of Member States representatives. The Committee votes and delivers an opinion on the proposal, after which the Commission adopts a regulation approving or refusing approval of the active substance Y.
Member State authorisation of PPP
Member States decide whether to authorise PPP Z (and other PPPs) containing the approved active substance Y for use, taking into account the agricultural and environmental circumstances in their territory. Holder of an authorisation in one Member State may obtain an authorisation (following local review) in another Member State for the same PPP Z used under comparable conditions (principle of mutual recognition).
Note: For further details on the approval of active substances, see: https://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/pesticides/approval_active_substances_en.
For further details on the authorisation of PPPs, see: https://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/pesticides/authorisation_of_ppp_en.
Source: ECA, based on information provided by the Commission.
Annex III – The general principles of IPM as defined in Annex III to the directive
(1) The prevention and/or suppression of harmful organisms should be achieved or supported among other options especially by:
- crop rotation,
- use of adequate cultivation techniques (e.g. stale seedbed technique, sowing dates and densities, under-sowing, conservation tillage, pruning and direct sowing),
- use, where appropriate, of resistant/tolerant cultivars and standard/certified seed and planting material,
- use of balanced fertilisation, liming and irrigation/drainage practices,
- preventing the spreading of harmful organisms by hygiene measures (e.g. by regular cleansing of machinery and equipment),
- protection and enhancement of important beneficial organisms, e.g. by adequate plant protection measures or the utilisation of ecological infrastructures inside and outside production sites.
(2) Harmful organisms must be monitored by adequate methods and tools, where available. Such adequate tools should include observations in the field as well as scientifically sound warning, forecasting and early diagnosis systems, where feasible, as well as the use of advice from professionally qualified advisors.
(3) Based on the results of the monitoring the professional user has to decide whether and when to apply plant protection measures. Robust and scientifically sound threshold values are essential components for decision making. For harmful organisms threshold levels defined for the region, specific areas, crops and particular climatic conditions must be taken into account before treatments, where feasible.
(4) Sustainable biological, physical and other non-chemical methods must be preferred to chemical methods if they provide satisfactory pest control.
(5) The pesticides applied shall be as specific as possible for the target and shall have the least side effects on human health, non-target organisms and the environment.
(6) The professional user should keep the use of pesticides and other forms of intervention to levels that are necessary, e.g. by reduced doses, reduced application frequency or partial applications, considering that the level of risk in vegetation is acceptable and they do not increase the risk for development of resistance in populations of harmful organisms.
(7) Where the risk of resistance against a plant protection measure is known and where the level of harmful organisms requires repeated application of pesticides to the crops, available anti-resistance strategies should be applied to maintain the effectiveness of the products. This may include the use of multiple pesticides with different modes of action.
(8) Based on the records on the use of pesticides and on the monitoring of harmful organisms the professional user should check the success of the applied plant protection measures.
Terms and abbreviations
Active substances: The active component against pests or plant diseases in a plant protection product.
Candidate for substitution: Active substances with certain properties for which EU countries are required to evaluate if they can be replaced (substituted) by other adequate solutions (chemical and non-chemical).
CAP: Common agricultural policy.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM): Careful consideration of all available plant protection methods and subsequent integration of appropriate measures that discourage the development of populations of harmful organisms and keep the use of plant protection products and other forms of intervention to levels that are economically and ecologically justified and reduce or minimise risks to human health and the environment. ‘Integrated pest management’ emphasises the growth of a healthy crop with the least possible disruption to agro-ecosystems and encourages natural pest control mechanisms.
Low-risk plant protection products: Products containing active substances that have been approved as low-risk can be authorised as a low-risk plant protection products. An active substance can be approved as a low-risk substance if it meets the regular approval criteria and in addition meets the low-risk criteria as specified in Annex II, point 5 of Regulation (EC) 1107/2009.
Pesticides: Plant protection products and biocidal products.
Plant protection products (PPP): Products, consisting of or containing active substances, and intended for protecting plants or plant products against harmful organisms or preventing the action of such organisms, influencing the life processes of plants, preserving plant products, destroying undesired plants or parts of plants or checking or preventing undesired growth of plants.
The ECA’s special reports set out the results of its audits of EU policies and programmes, or of management-related topics from specific budgetary areas. The ECA selects and designs these audit tasks to be of maximum impact by considering the risks to performance or compliance, the level of income or spending involved, forthcoming developments and political and public interest.
This performance audit was carried out by Audit Chamber I Sustainable use of natural resources, headed by ECA Member
From left to right:
1 Geiger, F. et al, ‘Persistent negative effects of pesticides on biodiversity and biological control potential on European farmland’, Basic and Applied Ecology, Elsevier Gmbh, 2010, p. 97-105.
2 IPBES, ‘The assessment report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services on pollinators, pollination and food production Ecosystem Services on pollinators, pollination and food production’, Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, Bonn, Germany, 2016.
3 By sold, in this report we mean ‘Placed on the market’ as defined in Article 3(9) of 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 and repealing Council Directives 79/117/EEC and 91/414/EEC.
4 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.
5 Article 14(4) of the directive.
6 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 and repealing Council Directives 79/117/EEC and 91/414/EEC.
7 Point 5 of Annex II to the PPP regulation sets out the EU criteria for low-risk substances.
8 Annex I to the PPP regulation defines the geographical zones.
9 The 18 revised national action plans submitted to the Commission by June 2019: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
10 Article 23 of the directive.
11 Bulgaria and Luxembourg.
12 The Commission’s report (COM(2017) 587 final) can be downloaded on its website: https://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/pesticides/sustainable_use_pesticides_en.
13 DG(SANTE) 2017-6291: ‘Overview Report Sustainable Use of Pesticides’, http://ec.europa.eu/food/audits-analysis/overview_reports/details.cfm?rep_id=114.
15 Article 55 of the PPP regulation states that use of PPPs must comply with the directive and, in particular, the general principles of IPM as referred to in Article 14 of and Annex III to the directive.
16 Article 3(1) of the directive defines ‘professional user’ as any person who use pesticides in the course of their professional activities.
17 Article 14(4) of the directive.
18 Draft Guidance Document for establishing IPM principles (07.0307/2008/504015/ETU/B3).
19 Article 67 of the PPP regulation.
20 Article 14 of the Statutory Instrument No 155 of 2012. European Communities (sustainable use of pesticides) regulations 2012.
21 Article 14(1) of the directive refers to organic farming according to Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 of 28 June 2007 on organic production and labelling of organic products.
22 In 2017, based on Eurostat statistics available at https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Organic_farming_statistics.
23 For 2014-2020, rules on cross-compliance requirements are defined in Article 93 and Annex II of Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on the financing, management and monitoring of the common agricultural policy.
24 Article 91, 96 and 99 of Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on the financing, management and monitoring of the common agricultural policy.
25 Statutory management requirement 10 Plant Protection Products: Article 55, first and second sentence of the PPP regulation.
26 Laid down in Articles 11-25 of the Swiss decree on direct payments (Ordonnance sur les paiements directs versés dans l’agriculture (Ordonnance sur les paiements directs, OPD ; RS 910.13) du 23 octobre 2013).
27 Joint statement by the European Parliament and the Council on cross-compliance attached to Regulation 1306/2013.
28 Article 11 and Annex III to the proposal for a CAP strategic plan regulation (COM(2018) 392).
29 Article 3(6) of the directive.
30 Principle number 4 of the general principles of IPM (See Annex III).
31 Article 14(1) of the directive.
32 Article 3(8) of the directive.
33 E.g. Article 77 of the PPP regulation states that the Commission may adopt guidance documents on the content of the application concerning microorganisms, pheromones and biological products.
34 Commission Regulation (EU) No 283/2013 of 1 March 2013 setting out the data requirements for active substances and Commission Regulation (EU) No 284/2013 of 1 March 2013 setting out the data requirements for plant protection products.
35 The concept of low-risk was introduced with the PPP regulation, and the first approval of an active substance as low-risk was in 2015.
36 The EU Pesticides Database, downloaded 9 September 2019.
37 Commission Notice concerning a list of potentially low-risk active substances approved for use in plant protection (2018/C 265/02).
38 AIR IV Renewal Programme.
39 Article 47 of the PPP regulation.
40 Progress report on the implementation plan to increase the availability of low-risk products and accelerate implementation of integrated pest management in Member States, March 2019.
41 Commission notice of 10.10.2017. Guidance on monitoring and surveying of impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment under Article 7(3) of Directive 2009/128/EC establishing a framework for Community action to achieve the sustainable use of pesticides (referred to as the Sustainable Use Directive).
42 Article 67(2) of the PPP regulation.
43 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; 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 2006/118/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 12 December 2006 on the protection of groundwater against pollution and deterioration; and Council Directive 98/83/EC of 3 November 1998 on the quality of water intended for human consumption.
44 For 29 of these substances, Member States must also meet the environmental quality standards defined in Annex I to 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 as amended by Directive 2013/39/EU of the European parliament and of the Council of 12 August 2013 as regards priority substances in the field of water policy. The other seven substances are defined in the Annex to Commission Implementing Decision (EU) No 2018/840 of 5 June 2018 establishing a watch list of substances for Union-wide monitoring in the field of water policy (Watch list).
45 Council directive 86/278/EEC on the protection of the environment, and in particular of the soil, when sewage sludge is used in agriculture (Articles 5 and 9 and Annex IA and IIB) specifies the monitoring of heavy metals, including copper. Several active substances in PPPs contain copper.
46 LUCAS 2018; the soil analysis results are expected by 2021.
47 Article 3 of Regulation (EC) No 1185/2009.
48 Regulation (EC) No 223/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2009 on European statistics.
49 Article 3(4) of Regulation 1185/2009 requires the Commission to aggregate data in predefined groups and categories before publication.
50 Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and Council on the implementation of Regulation (EC) No 1185/2009 (COM(2017) 109).
51 Annex II of Regulation (EC) No 1185/2009.
52 Eurostat (2019) Research paper: Statistics on agricultural use of pesticides in the European Union (ESTAT E1/AES/2019/RP/1).
53 Commission Directive (EU) 2019/782 of 15 May 2019 amending Directive 2009/128/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the establishment of harmonised risk indicators.
55 Article 50 of the PPP regulation.
56 Article 14 (1) of Directive 2009/128/EC provides for Member States to take all necessary measures to promote low pesticide-input pest management, giving wherever possible priority to non-chemical methods, with reference made to IPM and organic farming governed by Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 of 28 June 2007 on organic production and labelling of organic products, replaced by the new EU Regulation 848/2018 of 30 May 2018.
57 Overview Report on Sustainable Use of Pesticides (DG(SANTE) 2017-6792), http://ec.europa.eu/food/audits-analysis/overview_reports/details.cfm?rep_id=114
59 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.
60 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.
|Adoption of Audit Planning Memorandum (APM) / Start of audit||23.1.2019|
|Official sending of draft report to Commission (or other auditee)||11.10.2019|
|Adoption of the final report after the adversarial procedure||4.12.2019|
|Commission’s (or other auditee’s) official replies received in all languages||21.1.2020|
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