Pesticides

Synthetic plant protection products, as defined by the German Plant Protection Act, are substances manufactured by chemical means which are designed to protect plants or plant products from harmful animals, plants or microorganisms, and also designed to control germination or growth. The definition includes substances which clear land of plant growth or keep it clear. They are also used in post-harvest crop protection and for soil improvement.

“Pesticides” is a common collective name given for all chemical pest control products which protect plants or plant products from insects, plants, micro-organisms or disease in accordance with the German Plant Protection Act. Substances that kill plants, regulate growth or inhibit germination are also called pesticides.

Biocides are pest control products used outside for agriculture, which by chemical means destroy or deter harmful organisms, render them harmless, or prevent damage. They are used amongst other things as insecticides, rodenticides, wood preservatives and disinfectants.

However, many pesticides have adverse risks and side-effects. These include: the contamination of groundwater and drinking water; and the residual effects within food and crops, which both can cause negative impacts to biodiversity and pose health risks for pesticide users.

Pesticides can accumulate in the food chain and harm humans and animals. A critical evaluation regarding pesticide application should also be taken before, during and after the crop is grown.

Incorrect use of plant protection products in agriculture can result in residues in the food itself, and damage the ecosystem (soil, water or air), causing long-term pollution. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that every year approximately two million cases of poisoning occur worldwide as a result of the incorrect use, storage and application of plant protection products. The true figure is certain to be many times higher. Around 70% of all poisonings involve people in developing countries, although ‘only’ 20% of all plant protection products produced globally are used there.

To counteract these negative impacts, the United Nations environmental organisations (UNEP Chemicals, WHO, FAO, ILO) have established various instruments, now internationally valid, to regulate and monitor highly hazardous chemicals; primarily pesticides. These include:

  • the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides;

  • the Rotterdam or PIC Convention (PIC = Prior Informed Consent), which is intended to regulate and monitor the trading of certain hazardous chemicals;

  • the Stockholm or POPs Convention (POPs = persistent organic pollutants), which has initiated a process to ban the use of particularly persistent organic pollutants worldwide and to eliminate them.

However, there are currently no systems for the collection and safe disposal of empty plant protection containers (container management). Furthermore, these countries find themselves facing the problem of safely disposing obsolete pesticide stockpiles. According to the FAO, there are currently up to 500,000 tonnes of obsolete hazardous plant protection products world-wide, mainly in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus region, but also in Africa and Asia. The FAO estimates that in Africa alone, there are up to 50,000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides that must be disposed of via the Africa Stockpiles Programme (ASP) established by the FAO and the World Bank.