Farmers and growers use pesticides to do various things, including:
However, as pesticides are used to kill unwanted pests, weeds and moulds (fungi), they could also harm people, wildlife and the environment if there were not strict controls in place over their sale and use. The UK has a wide range of legislation and administrative controls governing their approval and authorisation, marketing, supply, storage and use to ensure that any risks are managed appropriately. There is more information on these controls in the answer to Q2 below.
It is up to everyone who is involved with pesticides, whether they are farmers, professional growers or gardeners, to ensure that they are used safely and effectively in line with the controls in place.
The Government is determined to ensure that all pesticides used in this country are safe:
Anyone wishing to place a pesticide or plant protection product (the terms mean the same thing and covers insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and other preparations intended to control plant pests, plant diseases or unwanted plants) on the market in the UK must obtain authorisation for the product under the terms of EC Regulation 1107/2009. Without such authorisation it is illegal to market, supply, store or use the product in the UK.
Anyone applying for authorisation of a product must provide an extensive range of scientific and technical data. Through this data, they must demonstrate that the product is effective and humane and poses no unacceptable risks to people (including users, local residents and bystanders), wildlife and the environment. The application is evaluated by specialist scientists against requirements set out by Regulation 1107/2009. Only when the Government is satisfied, based on expert advice, that the product can be used without unacceptable risk to people and wildlife and with minimal risk to the environment, can authorisation be granted for the product.
By law, everyone who uses a pesticide must, amongst other things:
When used according to the product authorisation and label directions, and the the Code of Practice for Using Plant Protection Products (which provides advice and guidance on best practice in using pesticides), a pesticide should not cause significant problems. Farmers and growers and other users of professional use products are required to have training which ensures that they know how to use the products safely, which will include knowing on which crop, and when, they can be used.
If you believe the use of pesticides has affected anyone in your family, wildlife or the environment you can report it. We explain how to report your incident on our website.
If there was an issue with a possible breach of the law, then the HSE have the powers to be able to inspect the spray records of farmers. When HSE investigates a pesticide incident and finds that there is evidence of incorrect use then they will take appropriate enforcement action.
It is good practice, but except in some circumstances it is not a legal requirement , to notify neighbours of an intention to spray pesticides (see section 3.7 of the 'Code of practice for using plant protection products' for further information on when members of the public should be informed).
It would be difficult for farmers or other pesticide users to notify neighbours of planned pesticide use on all occasions because weather conditions play a significant part in determining when spraying takes place . It is not uncommon for spraying to occur at short notice or at times which seem unusual. Equally, it is not uncommon for spraying to be cancelled or postponed at short notice if the weather changes suddenly.
By law, all professional users must keep records for at least 3 years of all the pesticides applications they undertake. The 'Code of practice for using plant protection products' explains how they might record this information.
You can ask the farmer about what pesticides they have been using. They will usually just tell you, although they do not currently need to by law.
However, The Good Neighbour initiative has been set up:
As part of the Government’s response to the Royal Commission’s study on pesticides, Ministers asked the National Farmers Union (NFU) to collaborate with industry partners and interested stakeholders to draw up a ‘good neighbour’ guide to advise and assist farmers and crop sprayers using pesticides where people are living or working nearby.
As a result the NFU has published the following Best Practice Leaflet and Spray Operator Guide in conjunction with the Agricultural Engineers Association Ltd (now the AEA), Country Land and Business Association (CLA), the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC), the Crop Protection Association (CPA) and the National Association of Agricultural Contractors (NAAC) and with advice from the UK Pesticides Campaign. These documents are intended to help spray operators to carry out their work responsibly and to take account of the concerns of residents living adjacent to their land. They may also be a helpful aid to rural residents who may wish to approach their neighbouring farmer with their concerns about pesticide use.
The Good Neighbour Initiative - Best practice when spraying near to residential areas (pdf - 1.45MB, 3 pages)
Good Neighbour Initiative - Spray Operator Guide (pdf - 206kb, 2 pages).
No, there is no requirement for farmers to leave an unsprayed area when spraying near houses. As long as farmers follow the conditions of use for the pesticide and the advice in the code of practice (see below) there should be no unacceptable risk from pesticide spray.
Before we authorise a new pesticide we carry out a 'risk assessment' to look at the effects on people living and working nearby.
Farmers must follow these conditions when using a pesticide. They should also follow the advice given in the 'code of practice for using plant protection products'.
The Code of practice for using plant protection products provides advice to farmers to carry out their own risk assessment before using a pesticide. They should:
Users and anyone who causes or permits others to use pesticides have a legal obligation to ensure that all reasonable precautions are taken to protect human health and the environment.
Detailed guidance on the use of a pesticide is provided by the conditions of use on individual product labels. This is supplemented by The Code of Practice for Using Plant Protection Products which provides guidance to all users on the safe and effective use of pesticides.