Chemicals in agriculture
Conventional farming makes use of pesticides to protect plants and fertilisers to enhance their growth and fertility. In organic farming, their use is heavily restricted. In both types of farming, the EU is working for safer products for consumers.
Pesticides – also known as agricultural chemicals – are substances that are used to protect plants against pests. They include herbicides to kill weeds, fungicides to get rid of diseases and insecticides to kill bugs. Those chemicals are unfortunately not only getting rid of the unwanted but can also cause harm to our health and the environment.
Pesticides or plant protection products contain at least one active substance and are used to:
- protect plants against pests and diseases;
- influence how much the plants grow;
- preserve plant products;
- kill or prevent the growth of undesired plants;
What is the EU doing?
The EU is controlling the use of pesticides in order to minimise the risks to our health and the environment.
All pesticides have active substances that take action against ‘pests’ or unwanted plants. All active substances that are being used in the EU for a plant protection product must be approved by the European Commission to make sure that they are safe before they reach the market in a product. Substances have to be safe for human and animal health and the environment.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) carries out risk assessments of pesticides and provide the European Commission and Member States with scientific support in the decision-making process.Approvals are then given based on these intensive evaluations. EFSA is the responsible EU Agency and offers detailed information on their website which you can find a link to below.
ECHA manages the law on classification and labelling of chemicals. How a chemical is assessed and labelled is based on the hazardous properties they may have.
Many different substances are used in modern agriculture. You may have heard of glyphosate, which is one of the most used herbicides for killing weeds. Read more below on the latest news on the assessment of this substance.
What about organic farming?
One way of limiting the emission of pesticides into the environment and the exposure to humans is to produce organic products. In organic farming, the use of chemical pesticides as well as synthetic fertilisers, antibiotics and other substances is heavily restricted. Organic farms have to follow some strict rules if they want to call their products organic.
Some of the important principles for the processing of organic products are:
- very strict limits on the use of agricultural chemicals, pesticides, fertilisers, antibiotics and food additives;
- not using genetically modified organisms (GMOs);
- using on-site resources;
- choosing plant and animal species that are resistant to diseases and adapted to local conditions.
If you are interested in finding out what the EU is doing on organic farming, you can follow the link below and read more.
- Pesticides - European Food Safety Authority
- Organic farming - European Commission
- Pesticides and food safety - European Commission
- Agriculture and pesticides - European Commission
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Chemicals in food
All food is made of chemical substances. Many of these occur naturally, some not. Read about additives and find out where to look for more information.
Glyphosate is one of the most widely used active substances in pesticides to prevent unwanted plant growth around planted crops or to kill plants or parts of plants. These substances are often called ‘herbicides' or ‘weedkillers'.