FAQ Concerns about the use of pesticides

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What do farmers and other growers use pesticides for?

Farmers and growers use pesticides to do various things, including:

  • protecting crops from insect pests, weeds and fungal diseases while they are growing
  • protecting harvested crops while they are stored
  • safeguarding human health, by stopping food crops being contaminated by fungi

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.

Q2. How are pesticides checked to make sure they are safe?

The Government is determined to ensure that all pesticides used in this country are safe:

  • for those who use them;
  • for consumers of the treated produce; and
  • for the environment

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.

Q3. What controls are there on the use of pesticides?

By law, everyone who uses a pesticide must, amongst other things:

  • Take all reasonable precautions to protect human health and the environment;
  • Confine the application of the pesticide to the crops or area to be treated;
  • Ensure when using pesticides in certain specified areas, eg those used by the general public, that the amount of pesticide used and the frequency of use are as low as are reasonably practicable.

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.

Q4. How do I report an incident resulting from pesticide use?

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.

Link to information on Reporting incidents

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.

Q5. Does the local farmer have to tell me when he is going to spray pesticides?

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.

Q6. How do I find out what pesticides a local farmer has been spraying?

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:

The Good Neighbour Initiative

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 published a Best Practice Leaflet and Spray Operator Guide. In 2018 and in conjunction with a range of partners, the NFU produced updated guidance as part of the Good Neighbour Initiative. The new guides are designed to help sprayer operators carry out their work responsibly, meet legal requirements, and take account of the concerns of bystanders, residents and the general public when using pesticides. They may also be a helpful aid to rural residents who may wish to approach their neighbouring farmer with their concerns about pesticide use.

Q7. Is there a legal requirement for farmers to keep a certain distance from houses when spraying crops?

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.

  • We work out the possible pesticide spray drift from pesticide use.
  • We look at the effect of different factors such as wind speed, application rate, type of sprayer and the speed of any vehicle used.
  • We use our results to set specific conditions of use for that pesticide.

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:

  • check whether spray drift is likely, taking into account how they will be applying the pesticide and the weather conditions; the law states that the use of a pesticide must be confined to what is being treated.
  • consider telling people living and working nearby (this is good practice, but not always a legal requirement, depending on what and how you are spraying);
  • take special care when spraying near vulnerable groups such as hospitals and schools;
  • take special care where there are public rights of way.

Q8. What precautions do spray operators have to follow when spraying pesticides in parks and other amenity areas?

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.


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Updated 2021-08-23