Protection for plant, human & the environment

Plant protection products

Consumers expect safe, healthy and high-quality food in sufficient supply. Healthy plants and plant stocks are the basis for this.

Plant protection products are an indispensable means of ensuring the health of plants. They are primarily used in agriculture and horticulture and play a major role in ensuring access to sufficient and balanced food of appropriate quality as well as raw materials for the growing world population.

Crop protection is a broad term. Targeted application of beneficial insects, biological antagonists to harmful organisms, slug pellets or weed killers for home gardens fall under the term plant protection products, as do chemically synthetic plant protection products used in agriculture against pests, fungi, bacteria, vectors of viruses and mycoplasmas or weeds.

In general, plant protection products are intended to protect plants and plant products from harmful organisms. The need for the use of plant protection products arises in all forms of production. Thus, even organic farming can hardly do without the use of plant protection products. However, preventive measures and mechanical as well as biological control strategies have a defined priority.

Agriculture in Austria is committed to the strategy of integrated pest management, a sustainable, environmentally friendly and optimized use of plant protection products. The premise of the Austrian integrated pest management program is to use selected pesticides in a targeted manner and only when no other measures can ensure adequate crop protection. Plant diseases, animal pests and competition with undesirable, not infrequently poisonous plants endanger the crop plants and the harvested material.

Authorization and trade of plant protection products in Austria are regulated by EU Regulation 1107/2009 and the Plant Protection Products Act 2011.

According to Article 2 of EU Regulation 1107/2009, plant protection products are products intended for one of the following uses:

  1. To protect plants and plant products against harmful organisms or to prevent their action,
  2. to affect the life processes of plants in a way other than as a nutrient or plant biostimulant, such as substances that affect plant growth,
  3. to preserve plant products
  4. to destroy undesirable plants or parts of plants,
  5. or to inhibit undesired growth of plants or to prevent such growth.

Testing, evaluation and approval of plant protection products

On the one hand, plant protection products are subject to a science-based approval process and, on the other hand, to controls during marketing and use. In Austria, the BAES (Federal Office for Food Safety) is responsible for the legally prescribed approval procedure for plant protection products, which issues the approval by means of a notice. The approval is based on assessment reports and expert opinions from our experts in the fields of toxicology, environmental behavior, ecotoxicology, efficacy and plant compatibility, as well as physicochemical properties and residue behavior. The documents to be submitted by applicants are governed by Regulation (EC) No. 1107/2009 of October 21, 2009 concerning the placing of plant protection products on the market. According to § 7 of the Plant Protection Products Act, plant protection products are only approved if there are no direct or indirect harmful effects on human or animal health, no unacceptable effects on the environment and the plants and plant products to be protected. The approval of a plant protection product is granted for a maximum period of 15 years. Renewal of the authorization is possible only after a new comprehensive evaluation.

As part of the approval of plant protection products, risk minimization measures are prescribed by the authorities and the relevant product labeling of the plant protection products is specified. Important substance properties of the plant protection products are recorded by the indication of hazard and safety information. The criteria for labeling are laid down for all chemicals and thus also for plant protection products in CLP Regulation (EC) No. 1272/2008.

As a further step towards risk minimization, appropriate measures to be implemented by the user are prescribed during the authorization process. Furthermore, for example, distance requirements to surface waters to protect aquatic non-target organisms or restrictions on use on flowering crops to protect bees must be applied.

All plant protection products approved by the Federal Office for Food Safety (BAES) are entered in the plant protection product register under a sequential number. An online database that is freely accessible to the public enables extensive searches in this regard.

Efficacy and phytotoxicity

The basis of every approval of plant protection products is the testing of efficacy and phytotoxicity (plant compatibility). The harmful organism to be controlled (weed, pest, pathogen) should be reduced to an economically acceptable level, but the treated plants and the harvested crop must not be adversely affected in the process. For the assessment, extensive studies by official or officially recognized testing facilities must be submitted. These are evaluated by our experts according to international standards (including Regulation (EC) No. 1107/2009 and EPPO guidelines) and in accordance with the Austrian Plant Protection Products Regulation 2011.

Evaluation criteria include the local relevance of the pest to be controlled, sufficient efficacy in the application rate applied for, and plant tolerance (phytotoxicity). Furthermore, it is checked whether it is proven that the minimum effective dose was applied for and that no negative influence of the plant protection product on adjacent crops, on the quality of the harvested crop or on processing procedures is to be expected. In addition, resistance management measures are also established.

The application provisions established as part of this assessment regulate on which crop, with what quantity, at what time, how often and with which application method a plant protection product may be applied. These application regulations are the starting point for the risk assessments of the other departments.

Officially recognized test facilities for testing the efficacy and phytotoxicity of plant protection products

As part of the authorization procedure for plant protection products, the applicant must also submit documents on efficacy and phytotoxicity, among other things. Such studies can only be taken into account in the approval procedure if they have been carried out by official or officially recognized trial stations. The recognition of trial stations is regulated in § 9 of the Plant Protection Products Ordinance 2011. The details for the requirements are laid down in Article 29(3) of Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 and in Regulation (EU) No 284/2013.

According to the Plant Protection Products Regulation 2011, we, the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety GmbH and the Federal Research and Training Center for Forests, Natural Hazards and Landscape are considered ex officio testing facilities for efficacy and phytotoxicity testing.

The Federal Office for Food Safety (BAES) shall, upon application, recognize other establishments as trial stations by notice if they meet the requirements laid down in Article 29 (3) of Regulation (EC) No. 1107/2009 - if necessary, subject to the imposition of conditions and requirements.

The list of officially recognized trial stations can be found on the homepage of the Federal Office for Food Safety.

Resistance round table

The risk assessment of already known or possible resistance symptoms of the harmful organisms to be controlled as well as the inherent resistance risk of the active substances are important criteria for the approval of plant protection products.

The Round Table on Resistance was first convened in 2006 by the Efficacy and Phytotoxicity Department, Institute for Plant Protection Product Evaluation and Registration. The event, which now takes place at annual intervals, serves as an information platform on the subject of plant protection product resistance between the regulatory authority, registration holders, chambers, advisory services and research.

Resistance has become more important throughout Europe as a result of the significant reduction in the number of active ingredients in the course of the EU active ingredient evaluation. The increasing awareness of the problem among all the groups involved, as well as the need to coordinate resistance management measures, has led to the establishment of this expert group. The participants exchange current information from the federal states, from neighboring countries and from international resistance working groups, discuss Austria-specific resistance problems and approaches to solutions, and coordinate the resulting need for action.

Environmental behavior

When combating harmful organisms and pathogens in agriculture and forestry, on public land (traffic areas, sports facilities, green spaces), but also when used in private households and allotments, plant protection products are directly released into our environment.

The department of environmental behavior deals with the distribution and behavior of a plant protection product and its degradation products in the environment. It must be taken into account that the environmental behavior of a plant protection product is subject to a variety of biological and chemical degradation processes. In principle, plant protection products and their degradation products may behave very differently: they can seep away, be washed away, be displaced while being degraded or be persistent, i.e. bind to soil components and remain in the soil or in sediments of water bodies for a longer period of time.

In the course of the evaluation of a plant protection product, it is estimated how long a plant protection product remains in the environment, which degradation products are formed and which concentrations of the plant protection product and its degradation products are to be expected in the soil, surface water, groundwater or aquatic sediments as well as in the air when used properly.

To assess environmental fate, "half-lives" and other characteristic properties of a pesticide and its degradation products are determined in standardized laboratory and field tests. The half-life (DT50) refers to the period of time in which the concentration of a pesticide in the environment has decreased to half of its original concentration. These degradation times are one of the basic parameters for calculating environmental concentrations and are used to estimate whether a substance is readily degradable or persistent.

An important aspect of the evaluation is the assessment of the leaching potential, i.e. the transport of pesticides from the soil to the groundwater. Unfavorable active ingredient properties (high water solubility, low binding to the soil body, long half-life), in combination with high precipitation and permeable soil types, can lead to undesirable inputs into groundwater.

Ultimately, the main responsibility of the department of environmental behavior is to provide predicted concentrations of the evaluated pesticide and its degradation products in various environmental compartments. These concentration values then in turn serve as a basis for other disciplines to make their assessments.

Ecotoxicology

The registration process for plant protection products aims to minimize impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity. The Department for Ecotoxicology performs risk assessments to ensure the acceptability of effects on the environment in accordance with European standards.

The ecological risk assessment, according to European law, considers five main organism groups (non-target organisms):

  • Terrestrial vertebrates (birds and mammals)
  • Aquatic organisms (fish, water fleas, algae and aquatic plants)
  • Terrestrial arthropods including bees
  • Soil organisms (earthworms, soil micro- and macroorganisms)
  • Terrestrial plants

Non-target organisms, are all organisms besides the focal pest-species a plant protection product targets. Exposure of non-target organisms is in most cases unavoidable as they may come into contact with the pesticide directly (e.g. via overspray) or indirectly (e.g. via ingestion of contaminated forage). Exposure time in the environment may vary greatly depending on the chemical properties, which needs to be considered. Slowly degrading (persistent) plant protection products can be detected in the environment for an extended period of time and bioaccumulation in the food chain needs to be addressed. In few words, the risk assessment compares the environmental concentration after application of the product to the intended use scenarios (e.g. to lettuce crops; exposure assessment) with the toxicity of the product to animals and plants based on study results (effect assessment). Acceptability for each intended use is assessed and, if necessary, risk-minimizing measures and conditions (e.g. distance to surface waters or use of drift-reducing spray nozzles) are proposed to achieve an acceptable risk to non-target organisms. Detailed information on the procedure and the legal basis as well as forms and tools can be found here.

Toxicology

In order to ensure that the proper and intended use of plant protection products does not pose any health risks, a risk assessment has to be conducted for the following groups of people: "consumers," "operators," "workers," "residents," and "bystanders". Possible toxic effects of a plant protection product or its active ingredients are determined on the basis of extensive scientific examinations. Most of these are animal experiments and studies, whereby the data requirements are specified and regulated by the EU Regulation 1107/2009.

Based on the whole available evidence, important toxicological reference values for the active substance are derived: the acceptable daily intake (ADI) and the acute reference dose (ARfD) as the basis for the risk assessment for the consumer and, furthermore, the acceptable operator exposure level (AOEL) for the risk assessment for the operator, worker, resident and bystander.

In addition, within the toxicological evaluation classification and labelling of the active substance and the plant protection product is done by assigning hazard pictograms, signal words, hazard statements and precautionary statements according to the CLP Regulation (EC) No. 1272/2008.

The scientific evaluation of the active substances of plant protection products, including the derivation of toxicological reference values and their classification and labelling according to the CLP Regulation, is done at EU level and can be viewed on the homepage of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the homepage of the European Chemicals Agency respectively.

Residue behavior and physico-chemical properties

The use of plant protection products in agriculture can result in residues of plant protection products on or in the treated plants and thus also on the harvested crops. As a rule, pesticide residues are due to direct treatment of the plants with pesticides, but may as well taken up from the soil by subsequent crops. Pesticide residues in animal feed can also lead to contamination in food of animal origin (e.g. milk, eggs, meat, offal).

Since the level of allowed residues is also driven by toxicological properties of the active substances and metabolites, an exceedance of   allowed level of residues (maximum residue levels) does not automatically indicate a potential risk for the consumer.

The maximum residue levels (MRL) for pesticides on foodstuffs were harmonized throughout the EU on 1 September 2008 when Regulation (EC) No 396/2005 came into force.

Physico-chemical properties

The assessments of plant protection products and their active substances are carried out as part of the national / zonal approval procedure (plant protection products) and of the EU active substance evaluation.

The identity includes the purity profile of the active substance and the composition of the plant protection products. Physical-chemical properties of the active ingredient (e.g. vapor pressure, melting point) provide as well some data for the evaluations of toxicological, ecotoxicological and residue-relevant properties. Testing of the plant protection product is includes its shelf life and behavior during application (e.g. foam resistance, emulsification behavior). The verification of analytical methods ensures that the identity of the active ingredient and also its content in the crop protection product can be determined with commonly used laboratory equipment. Analytical methods are also needed to monitor residues in food- and feedstuffs and drinking water with regard to the legally specified maximum values and to reliably detect any relevant residues in soil, water, air and body fluids / tissues.

Plant protection equipment

By taking technical measures in the equipment design and operation, the standard distance to surface waters can be reduced without risking unacceptable exposure to aquatic organisms.

Similar to the use of drift-reducing crop protection equipment or equipment parts, the dust drift of pneumatic precision air seeders with suction air systems can be reduced by technical measures in order to limit unacceptable exposure on the environment - especially on "non-target organisms" such as bees.

The decree of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management (BML), the amendment of the decree as well as the current list of drift reducing devices and equipment parts and the list of dust drift reducing pneumatic precision air seeders with suction air system can be found below in the downloads.

Testing of plant protection equipment before placing on the market

The Austrian Working Group for Integrated Pest Management (ÖAIP) awards a quality label to devices that meet the requirements of ÖAIP in terms of equipment and function. The current register of quality label devices can be found on the ÖAIP homepage.

Legal framework

Important EU directives and regulations can be found on the BAES homepage.

Contact

Leitung

Dr. Patrick Breinhölder

Last updated: 17.01.2022

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