Pesticides guidance for the general public

This guidance covers pesticide issues which may be of interest to the general public:

What are Pesticides?

'Pesticide' is a broad term, covering a range of products that are used to control pests. The slug pellets, insecticides and weed killers that you may use in your everyday life are all pesticides. Pesticides which are used to protect plants are called Plant Protection Products (PPPs). Pesticides you may have heard of include:

  • insect killers (insecticides)
  • mould and fungi killers (fungicides)
  • weed killers (herbicides)
  • slug pellets (molluscicides)
  • plant growth regulators
  • bird and animal repellents, and
  • rat and mouse killers (rodenticides)

Approval of Pesticides

Strict regulations govern the sale and use of pesticides in the UK.

All pesticides must undergo a rigorous approval and authorisation process which results in an authorisation that:

  • Restricts the crops or area to which the pesticide can be applied
  • Specifies the amount of the pesticides that can be applied
  • Specifies the number of times that a pesticide can be applied to a particular crop
  • Applies extra restrictions on use where appropriate

Organisations applying for an approval and authorisation must demonstrate, with scientific data, to the satisfaction of independent experts, that the product poses no unacceptable risks to human health, wildlife or the environment. This includes pesticides that are used on organic food.

Use of Pesticides

If used correctly, authorised pesticides should not pose a risk to the health of people.

By law, all users of professional pesticides must be adequately trained  and must follow the product label. The product label provides appropriate guidance for use of amateur (non-professional) pesticides in the home and garden.

Users must keep the pesticide to the area they are treating. For example, they must not let pesticide spray drift on to property belonging to other people.

When using pesticides, users must know how to reduce spray drift and take all reasonable precautions to do so. These include:

  • use of the right spraying techniques and equipment
  • taking account of the weather conditions,

The Code of Practice for Using Plant Protection Products, also known as the PPP Code, gives advice to farmers and other growers on using pesticides:

Code of Practice for using Plant Protection Products

Reporting an incident involving pesticides

If you, your family, wildlife, or the environment have been affected by exposure to pesticides, you are strongly advised to report it. Such incidents are taken very seriously but they need to be reported as soon as possible after the incident for an effective investigation to be undertaken.

Find out how to report an incident

Pesticides and Food Safety

When approving and authorising pesticides our purpose is to protect the health of consumers, users and the environment.

  • When we approve pesticides we expect that small amounts (residues) will turn up in food supplies. They are also expected to turn up in the environment and drinking water.
  • We set conditions of use to ensure that these residues are not at levels which may cause harm.
  • We also set legal limits on residues in food. These are known as maximum residue levels or MRLs
  • The Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) monitors levels of residues in food.

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Updated 2021-08-23