News Analysis: DEFRA pesticide consultation

The new EU pesticides legislation was controversial in its making, and implementing it might be no less contentious.

If the government decides, following its 12-week consultation launched last week, to implement the toughest options it would introduce hard-hitting new regulation and cost the industry about £177m.

But many in the industry would argue UK growers already take most measures required by the Sustainable Use Directive, regulating for the first time at European level how pesticides should be used. It is something DEFRA recognises by including “Option 1” – the status quo.

“Option 2” is for a middle ground, which adds voluntary measures to what growers already do. This option will be needed where existing practice doesn’t meet requirements of the directive.

Without doubt, though, the potential for gold-plating the directive’s requirements, as “Option 3” would do, makes engaging with the consultation vital.

Making sure DEFRA understands just what an unnecessary extra burden some of those proposals are for UK Farming plc is vital; you can bet your bottom dollar anti-pesticide campaigners will be making their views known.

So what are the issues DEFRA wants to hear your views on?

National Action Plans

• These should describe how the UK is going to implement the measures in the directive, while also setting quantitative reduction targets to reduce the risks and impacts of pesticide use and monitoring “substances of concern”.

The former is mostly taken care of in the existing UK Pesticides Strategy, but the current policy is not to set reduction targets. DEFRA believes the greater risk from pesticides comes from the way in which products are used, and that policies to cut specific active ingredients will not deliver any meaningful reduction in risk.


1 Maintain current strategy and action plans with minimal revision to ensure all areas of directive included.

Cost to industry £0m a year

2 Proactively identify improvements in monitoring use particularly of “substances of concern”. Set voluntary reduction targets for some products.

Cost to industry £25.4m a year

3 Statutory reduction targets for specific active ingredients. Could be done by use quotas per crop.

Cost to industry £45m a year

Key question Should national action plans set reduction targets?

Training and certification of spray operators

• The UK is well-served with training and certification schemes for those supplying, advising or using pesticides. But the new directive doesn’t allow for “grandfather rights” – those spraying or advising without training or certification due to their age or experience.

The directive also requires introduction of compulsory training, initial and continuing, which the current voluntary schemes do not cover. DEFRA also intends to extend compulsory training to advisers. That means Option 1 cannot be exercised.


1 Not applicable

2 Introduce statutory training for advisers and users, and also remove grandfather rights. Those affected to take short training course and/or assessment.

Introduce renewal of certificates of competence based on continuing professional development or a training course and assessment, and procedures to withdraw certificates, following conviction of not using all reasonable precautions to protect human health.

Cost £8m initial + £7m a year

3 In addition to Option 2, those affected by grandfather rights withdrawal have to take full training course and assessment. Convictions could lead to withdrawal of certificate for 6-12 months.

Cost £13m initial + £7m a year

Key questions What type of training and assessment is appropriate for grandfather rights holders? Should compulsory training be extended to advisers?


Pesticide sales

• The key point of the new directive is that there need to be measures to restrict sales to those authorised to apply them. DEFRA believes the current voluntary measures to ensure this would not be sufficient to meet the directive’s objectives.


1 Not applicable

2 Users will be required to provide their own user certificate registration number if for their own use, or that of a “responsible person” if purchased on behalf of a named person.

Cost £10,000 a year

3 Same as Option 2. Additional statutory requirement of distributors to provide information to users of amateur products.

Cost Up to £50,000 a year

Key question What do you think of having to give a certificate number when buying pesticides?

Equipment testing

• The directive requires sprayers to be inspected at least once every five years before 2020, and every three years after. New equipment to be inspected once in the first five years, and then the same as other sprayers.


1 Not applicable as government cannot rely on voluntary measures, such as the National Sprayer Testing Scheme, to “ensure” inspection takes place.

2 Inspection a minimum of every five years until 2020, and three years thereafter. Continue to support annual inspection on voluntary basis. Knapsack sprayers exempt. Compliance monitored via a registration scheme.

Cost £4m a year

3 Make annual inspection statutory, including for new sprayers. No exemption for knapsack sprayers. Cost £24m a year

Key question Do you want the UK to be a leader in this area, or only go as far as the directive requires?

Water protection

• Measures that have to be taken within the directive to protect the aquatic environment and drinking water include giving preference to products classified as not dangerous for the aquatic environment and to more efficient application equipment. In addition, mitigation measures should be used to minimise off-site pollution from spray drift, drain-flow or run-off.


1 Continuation of existing practice, plus additional awareness of risks from amenity use.

Cost One-off cost of £64,000

2 Enhanced voluntary measures such as giving preference to particular products and application techniques. It would also explore developing catchment-based approvals for at-risk products and promote mitigation measures, such as no-spray buffer zones next to water, and develop guidance for use of pesticides in Source Protection Zones.

Cost £4.7m initial + £4.3m a year

3 Restricting the use of pesticides when guilty of Water Framework Directive non-compliance, and greater use of statutory actions. Those could include compulsory use of low-drift technology and buffer strips adjacent to surface and groundwaters, and prohibition of use on amenity hard surfaces.

Cost £1.2m initial + £49m a year

Key questions Do you think that government should create a power to establish safeguard zones to restrict/prohibit pesticide applications? Or do you think it would be preferable to impose no-spray zones as a restriction on all pesticide products?

Prior notification of spraying

• By far the most likely issue to get farmers’ blood boiling is prior notification of spraying to neighbours. This falls under the second strand of EU legislation, the pesticide approvals regulation, which allows regulators to impose some form of prior notification before approving an active substance.


1 Maintain current arrangements as set out in the Code of Practice for Using Plant Protection Products and encouraged by the industry-led Good Neighbour Initiative.

2 This would build on the voluntary arrangements. The government and industry would encourage wider take up with initiatives to educate, promote and publicise good neighbourliness.

The objective would be to identify a variety of measures that could be drawn upon to develop appropriately tailored, and practical, solutions to sit the particular situation. The intended effect would be that people should be easily able to find out about planned pesticide use in their locality.

It would mean the government would revise the Code of Practice to include more detailed guidance on measures to ensure best practice, and include how to make arrangements for notification by the most appropriate means.

Cost £960,000 a year

3 Prior notification would be obligatory for all, or certain types of, pesticides. Neighbours who had requested notification would be so notified. Failure to comply would be an offence.

Cost £2.1m a year

Key question How would prior notification affect your business?