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Unimog 427 applying a pesticide
A pesticide can also be applied at night if the wind is too strong during the day or the daytime temperature rises too high.

Plant protection products ( PPPs ) are - colloquially expressed - pesticides and weed control products that are mainly used to protect crops . The EU Plant Protection Products Regulation , Article 2 defines them as chemical or biological active substances and "mixtures" (according to REACH regulation ) which are intended to

The products may only be marketed after they have undergone an approval process. The approval agency for PPP in Germany is the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) in Braunschweig .

The use of pesticides is controversial because of their side effects.

History of Plant Protection

The history of crop protection is as old as the history of agriculture . The use of inorganic chemicals was already reported in ancient times . Homer wrote about using burnt sulfur (SO 2 ) to control fungus . Pliny the Elder advises the use of arsenic as an insecticide , albeit without knowing about the toxicity of arsenic. In ancient China, too, systematic control of locusts was around 1000 BC. Been known.

During voyages of discovery to other countries, researchers came across herbal active ingredients that could be used against pests: nicotine from tobacco leaves (1763), pyrethrum from chrysanthemum flowers (1843), Rotenone from tuba roots (1848). Well-known plagues in history were the Great Famine in Ireland between 1845 and 1851, in which up to a million people died and two million Irish were driven to emigrate to America, and in Germany during the years 1916–1917 the turnip winter .

From the middle of the 19th century, inorganic salts began to be produced and used on an industrial scale. From 1867 the Schweinfurt green or Parisian green, from 1878 the Bordeaux broth or copper lime broth and from 1890 the lead arsenate were used in potato cultivation and in fruit and wine growing . From 1913, methylmercury was also offered as a pesticide in Germany . Dinitro- o- cresol, introduced by Bayer in 1892, is considered the first organic insecticide . It was initially used to control the moth in silviculture , but was also offered as a cereal herbicide in France from 1932.

In 1938 the highly effective insecticide TEPP ( tetraethyl pyrophosphate ) was discovered, and in 1939 the effectiveness of DDT was discovered by Paul Hermann Müller (Geigy). DDT was used by US troops in the Pacific during World War II as a protection against malaria . DDT later helped contain the problem of malaria. However, DDT accumulates in the environment and the food chain. From around 1970 the use of DDT was initially banned in some western industrialized countries, and since 2004 it has only been approved worldwide for disease control. The poorly degradable chemicals over large areas - even spread in the water - can and accumulate in human fat tissue, called persistent organic pollutants (POP or of p ersistent o rganic p ollutants).

In 1942, 2,4-D ( 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid ) was the first herbicide discovered. In 1944, Gerhard Schrader discovered thiophosphoric acid esters as effective insecticides. Due to their good biodegradability, this group of substances is often used for pest control. In 1956, triazine herbicides were introduced in Switzerland.

In 1930 the fungicidal effect of dithiocarbamates was discovered in the USA .

For some years now, plants that are resistant to broad spectrum herbicides have been grown using genetic engineering methods (see green genetic engineering ).

Plant protection product directory

All plant protection products approved in Germany are listed in the 7-volume list of plant protection products published annually by the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) (since 2003, previously at the Federal Biological Research Center for Agriculture and Forestry). Exception volume 6: this volume appears in the Julius Kühn Institute - Federal Research Institute for Cultivated Plants (JKI) (until December 31, 2007, the Federal Biological Research Center for Agriculture and Forestry).

For each plant protection product, the active ingredients contained therein and their contents, as well as the permitted areas of application and the labeling requirements are listed here.

The approved plant protection products can be queried online. The preparations and active ingredients approved in Switzerland can be viewed at the Federal Office for Agriculture . The EU plant protection products database is maintained by the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety . In Austria, the Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) is responsible and in Germany the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety .

Classification of plant protection products

Market and manufacturer

The world market for plant protection products amounted to 42.7 billion euros in 2014 and is distributed 28.5% in Latin America , 25.9% in Asia including Japan and Oceania, 24.5% in the European Union and 17.3% to the US, Canada and Mexico. Sales in Germany amounted to € 1.6 billion. The ten manufacturers of crop protection products with the highest sales were Syngenta ($ 10.3 billion), Bayer CropScience (9.5), BASF (6.0), Dow AgroSciences (5.0), Monsanto (3.7), DuPont (3rd , 2), Makhteshim Agan (2.6), Nufarm (2.3), Sumitomo Chemical (2.0) and FMC (1.8). In Germany, annual sales are around 40,000 t; in 2011, 43,000 t were sold.

Mergers and acquisitions

Around 1990 the large companies BASF, Bayer , Hoechst , Schering , Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz had their own departments for the development of pesticides in Germany, France and Switzerland. The development of new crop protection active ingredients has become so expensive due to the considerable increase in research costs that these can only be applied by large companies and industrial partnerships, which subsequently led to numerous company mergers.

In 1994 Hoechst's agricultural division was merged with that of Schering, creating the new company AgrEvo . The French Rhône-Poulenc merged with Hoechst to form Aventis , the new company merged AgrEvo with the Agro division of Rhône-Poulenc to form the new company Aventis CropScience.

In 2002, Bayer merged its crop protection sector with Aventis CropScience to create Bayer CropScience.

BASF took over crop protection product research from Shell and American Cyanamid . In 2000, BASF's business was expanded to include the crop protection products division of a US company ( American Home Products ).

The Swiss chemical companies Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy merged to form Novartis . In 1996 Novartis Crop Protection was created. When Novartis Crop Protection was merged with Zeneca, an independent agro-company called Syngenta was created . Syngenta was acquired by the Chinese state-owned company ChemChina in 2017 , with the company headquarters contractually remaining in Basel.

Bayer AG took over the American company Monsanto in 2018 , making it the undisputed world market leader in agrochemicals with sales of over EUR 20 billion p.a. a.


Plant protection products are usually preparations, i. In other words, in addition to the active ingredients in pesticides, they also contain auxiliaries (formulation auxiliaries). Poorly water-soluble pesticides require a solvent or emulsifier , depending on the formulation , in order to be able to be applied.

Auxiliaries in pesticides should u. a. affect the distribution , wetting, adhesion, penetration of the cuticle of the plant and the stability of the tank mix. Around 4,000 auxiliary materials used are known. Some excipients, although actually considered to be inert , can have their own toxicity (e.g. tallowamine ).

Spreading technology

Tunnel sprayer in viticulture when applying a pesticide. Tunnel spraying devices reduce the spray liquid losses very significantly with the help of the tunnel-shaped covering of the vine (with return of the collected spray liquid).

The plant protection product is distributed in fields by a field sprayer or, in the case of large areas, by an airplane (prohibited in the EU) or a helicopter. In room cultures such as fruit and wine growing, mostly with blower sprayers. In these row crops, recycling syringes such. B. a tunnel syringe used.

The required amount of pesticides for the preparation of the spray mixture is given in kg / ha or l / ha (= hectare expenditure ) and in future in kg / ha or l / ha of leaf wall area (= dose per hectare of leaf wall area ).

Areas of application and consumption

Herbicides are the most important pesticide category with a share of around 50%. They are applied to 92–97% of all corn, cotton, soy and citrus crops. For vegetables, the proportion treated is 3/4 and for fruit 2/3.

In Asia, Africa and Latin America, on the other hand, insecticides dominate.

Areas of application of pesticides in 2000, world market
Agricultural products Share of sales of
crop protection products
Fruits, vegetables, nuts 21%
Grain 13.1%
Corn 8.0%
rice 8.0%
cotton 5.0%
Oil plants 5.8%
Private households, gardens, ornamental plants 17.2%
Others 18.1%

European Union

Data on the use of PPPs in the European Union are only available to a limited extent. According to Eurostat , application rates for various categories of plant protection products are not available. Information on quantities sold and used is only available for certain periods and countries. According to Regulation (EC) No. 1185/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2009 on statistics on pesticides, the member states are obliged from 2012 to regularly collect data on the total quantities of plant protection products and to transmit them to the European Commission. From 2015, the use of PPPs by plant type will also be recorded every five years.

The total weight of PPP active ingredients sold increased between 2000 and 2005 in Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Finland and Norway, decreased in France, Slovenia and Sweden and remained relatively stable in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Great Britain. Fungicides and herbicides were the top-selling categories in 2005 in the countries for which data were available. In Germany, France, the Netherlands and Austria, fungicides accounted for more than a third of PPP sales by weight; in Portugal, Slovenia and Italy even more than 60%. In Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Latvia, Poland and Finland, on the other hand, herbicides represented more than half of sales volumes; in Estonia, Sweden and Norway more than 80%. The weight percentage of insecticides was negligible in most countries (<5%), except in Belgium (10%) and Hungary (16%). Fungicides, the best-selling PPPs, were highest in France in 2000 (53,000 t of active ingredient), but fell by 32% by 2005. In 2005 the highest fungicide sales were achieved in Italy (54,000 t). Herbicides were the most sold in France in 2005 (29,000 t, 5% less than 2000), followed by Germany (15,000 t, 12% less than 2000). The strongest absolute increase, from 5,000 to 8,000 t, occurred in Poland. Insecticide sales in 2000 were highest in Spain (10,000 t), followed by Italy (7,000 t), where they dropped to 4,000 t by 2005.

In 2003, 75% of the total amount of PSM active substances used in the EU-25 was 220,000 t in 5 countries: France (28%), Spain and Italy (14% each), Germany (11%) and Great Britain (7%) ). With regard to fungicides, France (32%), Italy (17%) and Spain (15%) together accounted for 64% of the total, which can be explained by the use of sulfur (76% of all fungicides) in viticulture , which is predominant in these countries . With regard to herbicides, France (26%), Germany (15%), Spain (11%) and Great Britain (11%) dominated with a combined 63% of EU consumption. Growing grain (50%) and corn (16%) accounted for the bulk of herbicide consumption. The insecticide market was led by Italy (33%) and Spain (29%) which together with France (18%) represented more than 80% of total EU consumption. Growth hormones were almost entirely in cereals, 33% in France, 31% in Germany and 17% in the UK.

A large proportion of the consumption of PPPs is attributable to special crops , which is particularly due to the use of sulfur in viticulture. Between 2000 and 2003, 45% of PPP consumption was from special crops and 55% from arable crops. Most of the PPPs used in arable crops are herbicides, with grain and maize playing a dominant role. In the 1990s, due to the enlargement of the EU, the area of ​​grain increased by almost 50% and the amount of herbicides by over 100%, which means an increasing use of herbicides per unit area. In potato cultivation, the intensity of treatment with fungicides is particularly high, even though the cultivated area is relatively small.

By far the most widely used PPP in 2003 was sulfur, which was mainly used to control powdery mildew in viticulture. Despite a long-term decline, sulfur still accounted for more than 25% of the amount of active substance applied in the EU in 2003. The phosphonates ( glyphosate and glufosinate ) have gained in importance since 1992 and were the second most widely used PPP category in 2003. In general, herbicides increased in importance while fungicides declined. Phosphoric acid esters have always played a central role in insecticides , as they have a broad spectrum of activity and are inexpensive.

For a trend analysis of different PPP categories, it is also necessary to consider the index variation, as the active ingredient doses of some products are very low. This is particularly true of fungicides, where products with high doses have been replaced by products with lower doses. So took 1992-2003 the importance of fungicide classes of the carbamates , dinitroanilines ( fluazinam ), quinoline , strobilurins and Phenylpyrroles ( fludioxonil to) while morpholines , oxazoles (isoxazole hymexazol , oxazolidinedione famoxadone , dicarboximide vinclozolin ), copper and benzimidazoles showed declining. The herbicides listed quinolinecarboxylic ( quinclorac and quinmerac ) pyridinecarboxamides ( diflufenican and picolinafen ), triazolinones, cyclohexanedione (DIM) and sulfonylureas the largest relative increases, and triazines , diazines , triazinones ( metribuzin and metamitron ) and morphactins ( Chlorflurenol ) lost heavily at Market share. Within the insecticides, the relative importance of pyridine ( pymetrozine , flonicamid ), antibiotics ( avermectins , milbemycins ), phenylpyrazoles ( Fipronil , fenpyroximate , tebufenpyrad ) diacylhydrazines ( methoxyfenozide and tebufenozide ) and neonicotinoids in the 1990s strongly while benzoylureas , sulfite esters ( propargite ) and tetrazine ( clofentezine ) almost completely disappeared and formamidines ( amitraz , chlordimeform ) and insect growth regulators ( buprofezin , cyromazine and hexythiazox ) declined massively.

Sales statistics


Sales of pesticides per hectare of arable land - EU 2012. The color values ​​correspond to the figures in the diagram on the left.

Pesticides EU 2012.png

EU plant protection product categories. P1: Fungicides and bactericides, P2: Herbicides, herbicides and moss killers, P3: Insecticides and acaricides, P4: Molluscicides, P5: Plant growth regulators, P6: Other pesticides. The red / green coding refers to the sales of PPP per available arable land in the individual states. (red = a lot)

Official data on plant protection product sales in EU countries are available up to 2012. The statistics listed above include the official EUROSTAT data of the total sales of pesticides per available national arable land in kg / ha. The diagram values ​​are the sums of the corresponding amounts of all six pesticide categories and normalized using the latest available EUROSTAT data (2010) over the national arable land.

According to the diagram, highest levels of pesticides in the range of 17.5 kg to 5.5 kg per hectare of arable land are sold in Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Slovenia and Spain. The distribution among the individual plant protection product categories is quite different (right, EU plant protection product categories). There is also a trend that the use of fertilizers is directly related to the sale of pesticides. The point diagram below shows that 13 of the 28 countries are below the EU average for both plant protection products and fertilizers, while 8 countries are equal to or above the respective average values ​​in both substance classes at the same time. It is also noteworthy that, among the top ten global agricultural export countries, only France can be found in the “13”. In contrast, four of the top ten are among the “8”, namely: NL, DE, IT and BE.

Pesticides vs.  fertilizers.png


Consumption of active ingredient quantities in Germany in tons per year
scope of application 1970 1980 1990 1995 2000 2005 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Herbicides 10,661 20,857 16,957 16,065 16,610 14,698 17,887 16,336 15,046 16,716 14,545
Fungicides 6.331 6,549 10,809 9,652 9,641 10.184 12,669 12,539 12,145 13,271 11,686
Inert gases, insecticides, acaricides , synergists 1,521 2,341 1,525 4,925 6.111 6,809 12,649 14,885 15,483 14,580 16,244
Others 956 3,183 3,679 3,889 3,232 3,803 2,898 4,372 4,247 3,739 2,472
total 19,469 32,930 33,146 34,531 35,594 35,494 46.103 48.132 46,921 48,306 44,947


Between 2005 and 2011, an average of 340 active ingredients in pesticides were approved in Switzerland. During this period, around 100 active ingredients lost their approval, while around 70 others were newly approved.

Consumption of active ingredient quantities in Switzerland in tons per year
scope of application 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Fungicides and bactericides 939 949 903 939 988 1024 1049 1057 1036 1009
Herbicides 850 747 801 896 815 781 725 686 624 599
Insecticides and acaricides 250 287 218 268 281 283 292 222 276 251
Molluscicides 43 35 38 38 33 56 56 47 42 30th
Growth regulators 34 44 37 32 31 42 26th 30th 26th 28
Other pesticides 121 162 150 110 82 104 97 172 153 113
total 2237 2224 2148 2282 2231 2290 2245 2213 2157 2030
The ten best-selling active ingredients in plant protection products in Switzerland from 2015 to 2017
2015 2016 2017
# Active ingredient metric tons # Active ingredient metric tons # Active ingredient metric tons
1 sulfur 394.3 1 sulfur 406.2 1 sulfur 378
2 glyphosate 227.9 2 Paraffin oil 217.4 2 Paraffin oil 206.6
3 Paraffin oil 163.5 3 glyphosate 203.9 3 glyphosate 186.1
4th Folpet 135.6 4th Folpet 106.7 4th Folpet 107.6
5 kaolin 90.4 5 kaolin 85.1 5 Copper (total, all variants) 71.7
6th Mancozeb 72.1 6th Copper (total, all variants) 63.8 6th Mancozeb 61.9
7th Copper (total, all variants) 67.6 7th Mancozeb 67.1 7th Chlorothalonil (TCPN) 45.1
8th Metamitron 65 8th Metamitron 42.1 8th Metamitron 41.4
9 Captan 45.9 9 Captan 40.1 9 Rapeseed oil 40
10 Metaldehyde 43.1 10 Metaldehyde 38.5 10 Captan 38.7
total 1305.4 total 1270.9 total 1177.1

United States

The EPA has published data on the sales and use of pesticides in the US since 1979. The most recent figures published in 2011 are for 2007.

Sales of pesticides in 2007 amounted to US $ 12.5 billion (32% of the world market). Of this, herbicides accounted for 48%, insecticides 35%, fungicides 11% and other pesticides 9%. Herbicides and insecticides are relatively more important and fungicides are relatively less important in the United States than in the rest of the world. Agriculture accounted for 63% of pesticide sales, followed by home and garden (21%) and industry and public institutions (15%).

The use of pesticides amounted to 514,000 t in 2007, of which 47% herbicides, 8% insecticides, 6% fungicides and 39% other pesticides.

The most common conventional pesticide active ingredients used in agriculture were glyphosate (82,000 t), atrazine (33,000 t), metam-sodium (23,000 t), metolachlor (14,000 t), acetochlor (13,000 t), dichlorprop (12,000 t), 2, 4-D (11,000 t). Glyphosate has been the most widely used active ingredient since 2001. 13 of the top 25 active ingredients were herbicides.

Hazards and negative effects of the use of plant protection products


Numerous endocrinological societies as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) consider it to be proven that many pesticides have a negative influence on the human endocrine system ( endocrine disruptors ) and on the development of breast and prostate cancer, infertility, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular, even in the smallest concentrations Diseases, thyroid diseases as well as neurological, neurodegenerative and mental diseases in humans are involved.

In particular, endocrinological societies also criticize the fact that these negative health effects are not sufficiently taken into account when pesticides are approved in the EU and that current limit values ​​do not provide sufficient protection.

Another problem that arises from plant protection with synthetically produced plant protection products is the risk of resistance to individual active ingredients in insects, weeds and fungi. These can arise when identical active ingredients are used repeatedly. In practice, therefore, spray sequences of various active ingredients and mixtures of pesticides are used, which can further increase the risk of undesirable effects. The manufacturers of synthetic pesticides are looking for new active ingredients with new lead structures in order to be able to offer new products in the event of resistance.

The extensive use of pesticides in industrial agriculture can damage ecosystems to a large extent and reduce biodiversity. The use of pesticides is made jointly responsible for the decline in (wild) bees and other insects, the death of birds and the pollution of groundwater and soil.

The 400 scientists in the World Agricultural Report , as well as UNCTAD , the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina and many other specialist societies, are in favor of reducing or ending the use of synthetic pesticides. They demand a change from the currently operated and subsidized industrial, energy-intensive agriculture to small-scale, ecological agriculture.

On February 23, 2020, 24 European research institutions - including the Julius Kühn Institute and the Leibniz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research (both Germany) and Agroscope (Switzerland) - signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) "Towards a Chemical Pesticide-free Agriculture" .

Toxicity of plant protection products

Number of deaths per 1 million Germans (1980–2010) as a result of
pesticides. Intoxication mostly as a result of suicide

Pesticides are used to destroy or reduce harmful organisms . However, when they are used, non-target organisms such as beneficial insects can also be decimated or damaged. The negative effects can affect other plants and organisms . The users of pesticides, for example farmers or consumers, for example through residues in food , can also be affected by pesticides. In addition to the toxicity of a plant protection product for various living organisms, the exposure and the dose received are particularly decisive. For users, the risk of exposure is highest when preparing the spray liquid if a powdery concentrate is used. For insect itself can honeydew have a toxic effect on the plants.

Endocrinological societies and the WHO consider it to be proven that many pesticides, even in concentrations to which consumers are exposed, can lead to serious health impairments, which are primarily caused by a disruption of the endocrine system.

From epidemiological studies and animal experiments it can be deduced that pesticides intervene in the development cycle of the egg cells in women , change ovarian gene expression , reduce female fertility, postpone the time of menopause, increase the risk of breast cancer, endometriosis and birth complications. In men, the effects of pesticides increase the risk of infertility, testicular defects and prostate cancer, among other things .

In particular (unborn) children are exposed to a high health risk from endocrine disruptors such as pesticides, because organ development depends in a highly complex manner on the undisturbed interaction of various hormones. Endocrine disruptors intervene in these processes and can thus contribute to impaired brain development, a lowered IQ and behavioral disorders.

Use of personal protective equipment when handling pesticides

The Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety is responsible for the approval of plant protection products in Germany and the Federal Office for Agriculture in Switzerland . Upstream of product approval is an EU community procedure for the approval of active ingredients. According to this, only plant protection products whose active ingredients are listed in the positive list of EU Regulation No. 540/2011 may be authorized (previously: in the appendix to EU Directive 91/414 / EEC). Approved plant protection products are given an approval number that (the snake in the triangle is no longer up-to-date) must be on the packaging.

Certain crop protection agents are subject to bans or restrictions in some countries. In Germany, details on this are regulated by the Ordinance on Use Prohibitions for Plant Protection Products (PflSchAnwV 1992). Reasons for a ban on use or a restriction on use can be, for example, new findings on health hazards or a strong accumulation in the environment. In the organic farming additional restrictions apply.

The chronic toxicity to environmental chemicals is determined by means of feeding experiments in rats and dogs. The average lifespan of rats is around two years. During daily feeding attempts, they are given a certain amount of pesticides through the food. If this dose is tolerated by several average rats without any health consequences, the permitted daily dose (ADI) is obtained in mg of active ingredient per kg of body weight per day. For safety reasons, to protect people, the permitted daily dose for humans should only be 1/100 of the permitted daily dose for rats.

Independent scientists criticize the current form of the registration and toxicity studies for several reasons:

  • The outdated paradigm of toxicology is still used that the harmfulness of a substance increases linearly with the amount of exposure. This is particularly not the case with hormone-active substances, where even the smallest amounts could have negative effects on the organism due to reinforcement effects in the human body.
  • In the vast majority of cases, the approval procedures represent an individual substance assessment in which a single active ingredient is tested for its toxicity. In reality, many crop protection products contain a mixture of different active ingredients to prevent resistance. In addition, farmers often mix different crop protection products together in the spray tank. The effects of the combination of different active ingredients are not sufficiently taken into account in the current approval procedures.
  • The negative effects of pesticides on many groups of organisms such as wild pollinators and amphibians are not sufficiently taken into account.

Only with the development of trace analysis such as gas chromatography and HPLC could even the smallest traces (1 / 1,000,000,000) of pesticides be detected.

Permitted daily dose of some crop protection agents
Crop protection agent ADI (mg / (kg d)
2,4-D 0.01
Amitraz 0.01
Carbaryl 0.008
Carbofuran 0.002
Diazinon 0.002
Disulfoton 0.0003
Endosulfan 0.006
Imazalil 0.03
Metalaxyl 0.03
Permethrin 0.05
Pyrethrins 0.04
Thiodicarb 0.03

In the event of a critical frequency of pests , the dose of a plant protection agent used is sufficient to eliminate the infestation. The residues of pesticides are then determined in the harvested grain, vegetables and fruit. You can then calculate how many mg of pesticides can be contained per kilo of food (MRL, Maximum Residue Limit ) and what amount of food is consumed daily by a normal person (TTMA, theoretically maximum daily intake in milligrams per person and day). The permitted daily dose and TTM value can be compared and the dangers for the population can be estimated.

The actual concentrations in food are much lower, as pesticides often biodegrade quickly and many agricultural businesses do not use pesticides. Even in the USA (around 1980) only 45% of agricultural land was treated with pesticides. In 2008, no pesticides could be detected in 62% of the German grain samples (see web link Nutrition Report 2008); the limit value was exceeded in 1–2% of the samples. In the case of fruit and vegetables, the limit value was exceeded in 8.4% of the samples, and in 3.1% of the cases the pesticide content was above 0.01 mg / kg. Animal food contained residues of pesticides ( DDT , lindane ) in more than 50% of the samples , but the level in the samples was low. It should be noted, however, that only a negligible proportion of the grain, fruit and vegetables placed on the market is actually tested: in 2009, only 0.25% of the> 180,000 grain samples were tested; it was detected in 42 cases (9.1%).

On September 1, 2008, a new EC regulation on maximum levels of pesticides in food was published.

There are chemical pesticides that quickly lose their effectiveness due to bacteria or water or light (e.g. phosphoric acid esters ) and other substances (e.g. DDT, lindane) that can hardly decompose and accumulate in the food chain. DDT hardly decomposes due to environmental influences. Only after 10 years does the concentration decrease by 50% in the soil. DDT and other substances can get into the natural food cycle and B. in the sea, in plankton, in fish. When eating grain, meat and fish, humans could also ingest this hazardous substance. In humans, it is deposited in fatty tissue, liver and heart muscle and has also been found in breast milk. A number of organochlorine pesticides have been banned after decades of use DDT (1972), Aldrin (1972), Heptachlor (1985), Endrin (1985).

In some cases, pesticide residues can be detected in the soil for much longer than indicated by the manufacturers in approval studies. A monitoring study showed that most (80%) of 80 different pesticides that were applied to 14 arable land in Switzerland between 1995 and 2008 could still be detected in the soil in low concentrations in 2017. In the approval documents, residence times in the range of a few weeks to months were usually assumed. Scientists in Portugal, Spain and Finland came to similar conclusions.

The herbicide atrazine is still detectable in the soil over 25 years after it was banned in Germany.

Contrary to the claims made in the approval studies, neonicotinoids also occur in ecologically effective concentrations in groundwater and running water.

According to a discussion paper by the Leopoldina from 2018, there are major differences between the information provided by manufacturers as part of the approval process and the actual environmental impact.

Tests for carcinogenicity , teratogenicity and mutagenicity (genetic changes) are also carried out for plant protection products. Studies of inhalation, skin absorption and the nature of the biochemical conversion in the body are made. When investigating a new substance, around 100,000 individual data (e.g. urine, sugar content, creatinine, white, red blood cells, cholesterol, deformities, etc.) from animal experiments must be evaluated. Later, the new plant protection product has to be produced as a radioactive tracer so that researchers can study the chemical breakdown in the environment and in the organism. A dossier on a new plant protection product now comprises around 30,000–50,000 pages and a summary of around 2,000 pages. Approval for a new plant protection product is usually limited to 10 years and must then be renewed. The approval can be withdrawn in the event of new, unexpected effects. In 1998, around 30,000–40,000 compounds had to be produced to develop a new active ingredient, and research costs are around 150–200 million US $ per active ingredient. In Europe, older active substances (around 850 substances before 1991) had to be reassessed for toxicological consequences as pesticides according to "Directive 91/414 / EEC" and "Annex I". In the USA, Europe and Japan there are slightly different protocols for the approval of plant protection products, so efforts are being made to harmonize the protocols internationally . In the European Union, new regulations for placing pesticides on the market have been in effect since autumn 2009.

According to a report published by Canada's National Cancer Institute in 1997, synthetic pesticides do not make a significant contribution to cancer mortality. The authors did not believe that an increased intake of pesticide residues through an increased consumption of fruit and vegetables increased the risk of cancer. This presentation contradicts the more recent publications of numerous independent medical specialist societies as well as the WHO. They see it as proven that pesticides and other endocrine disruptors such as plastic packaging and solvents increase the risk of some forms of cancer and also have far-reaching harmful effects.

Medium displacement: drift, evaporation

Only part of the total amount of pesticides applied reaches its destination (target organisms). Unsuitable application technology, excessive use of resources or adverse weather conditions (high temperature , strong wind, heavy precipitation) can transport pesticides from the areas on which they are actually intended to reach and act. Depending on the weather, only 10–50% of the pesticides reach their destination. The main reasons for undesired emissions are:

  • Drift into the atmosphere and onto areas outside the field
  • Entry of pesticides into the groundwater via surface runoff (run-off) and leaching (= the infiltration of pesticides into deeper soil layers ). Run-off losses of up to 1% were measured in field trials, and up to 3% in heavy rain shortly after application. With leaching, up to 1% of the application rate can be measured at a depth of up to 1.2 m. Most pesticides can be detected in the groundwater after a longer period of time. In Switzerland, plant protection products are one of the main causes of diffuse micropollutants in rivers.
  • Evaporation during application, especially with low boiling point pesticides such as. B. Clomazone .
  • Evaporation from the fruit surface and from the soil surface.
  • Wind erosion of soil contaminated with pesticides.
  • Re-volatilization of previously deposited pesticides.

In the event of strong updrafts and lateral movement by wind ( drift ) or evaporation ( evaporation ), the agent can be transported to adjacent agricultural areas, ecosystems and residential areas. Due to heavy rainfall or a long biological half-life , pesticides are introduced into the surface or groundwater .

Effects on biodiversity

The use of pesticides in agriculture reduces biodiversity.

In the agricultural landscape, herbicides reduce the biodiversity and abundance of flowering plants such as wild herbs, which in turn are an important source of food for insects. As a result, herbicides are largely responsible for the decline in amphibians, wild bees, butterflies, bumblebees and other insects and, as a result, also for the decline in birds and insect-eating small mammals (mice, hamsters, etc.). On the one hand, these are threatened by the plant protection product being poisoned or impaired in their viability, and on the other hand by the change in the habitat (structure, diversity) and the deprivation of the food base.

Furthermore, the groundwater resources that are important for the water supply are also contaminated by pesticides.

Consumer protection

Investigations into risk perception make it clear that pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables as well as grain are considered dangerous by consumers in southern and central Europe. This assessment is consistent with the assessment of the WHO and endocrinological specialist societies.

Officials emphasize that the approval of plant protection products would be based on the ALARA principle ( As Low As Reasonably Achievable ). The maximum residue levels for pesticides would be set by the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety just as high as necessary for the application in order to minimize the risk for consumers even in the case of still unknown hazards. It is forbidden to place food on the market in excess of the statutory maximum levels. However, exceeding this does not automatically mean a risk to food safety , as the limit values ​​are set below toxicologically questionable doses for safety reasons.

Numerous medical societies from different countries criticize that the current limit values ​​are inadequate and that much stronger regulatory efforts are necessary to protect consumers from the harmful effects of pesticides. It is also criticized that the pesticide industry has a great influence on the approval and evaluation process and that it would try to influence public opinion and deny the scientific consensus on the dangers of pesticides through targeted disinformation of the public and the infiltration of scientific journals.

Costs and benefits of plant protection products

With the help of cost-benefit analyzes , attempts are made to evaluate the positive and negative effects of plant protection products. In the simplest case, the costs of a plant protection measure are compared at farm level with the expected economic damage in the event of non-control. In agriculture, pesticides are often used according to rigid application programs. In contrast, with integrated pest management , an economic damage threshold is set, after which pesticides are used.

It is more difficult to include external effects , for example on health or the environment, which can only be assessed with difficulty using economic standards. Effects on health can, for example, be calculated as the sum of treatment costs and loss of productivity; another approach estimates the effects of pesticides in quality-corrected years of life .

External effects on the environment are even more difficult to assess; for example, the Total Economic Value approach takes into account utility value (current use), option value (possible future use) and existence value (assigned value, regardless of use).

If external effects are included, they often have a negative rather than positive effect on the overall balance sheet. In 2007, Cooper and Dobson pointed out that plant protection products not only have direct effects but also provide primary and secondary benefits. The direct effect is the fight against plant pests and diseases. The primary services include, among other things, higher plant and livestock yields, higher quality plant and animal products or lower exposure to mycotoxins . This resulted in various economic, social and environmental secondary benefits such as higher incomes in agriculture, improved food security and food security , lower greenhouse gas emissions or lower pressure on uncultivated areas.

A study by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) on neonicotinoids considered dangerous for pollinators concluded that the damage to ecosystems caused by their use may outweigh the benefits and recommended a reassessment.

See also


  • Gerd Fleischer, Hermann Waibel: External costs of the use of pesticides in agriculture - need for action for agri-environmental policy. In: Journal for Environmental Policy & Environmental Law. 22, No. 3, 1999, pp. 433-448. (on-line)
  • Paul Schudel: Ecology and Plant Protection . Basics for the use of plant protection products. Environmental Knowledge No. 0809. Federal Office for the Environment, Bern 2008.
  • Roland Dittmeyer, Wilhelm Keim, Gerhard Kreysa, Karl Winnacker, Leopold Küchler: Chemical technology. Volume 8: Nutrition, Health, Consumer Goods. 5th edition. Wiley-VCH, 2004, ISBN 3-527-30773-7 , pp. 216ff.
  • Burkhard Fugmann, Folker Lieb, Heinrich Moeschler, Klaus Naumann, Ulrike Wachendorff: Natural crop protection agents. Part I: An alternative to synthetic pesticides? In: Chemistry in Our Time . tape 25 , no. 6 , 1991, pp. 317-330 , doi : 10.1002 / ciuz.19910250606 .
  • Burkhard Fugmann, Folker Lieb, Heinrich Moeschler, Klaus Naumann, Ulrike Wachendorff: Natural crop protection agents. Part II: Limits to practical use . In: Chemistry in Our Time . tape 26 , no. 1 , 1992, p. 35-41 , doi : 10.1002 / ciuz.19920260109 .
  • Robin Sur: Residue analysis of pesticides in food - from product development to official monitoring. In: Science Practice, Chemistry in School. 50, No. 2, 2001, pp. 15-21.
  • R. Gent, F. Dechet: Plant protection products and natural balance. In: Practice of the natural sciences, chemistry. 50, No. 2, 2001, p. 6ff.
  • Industrieverband Agrar eV: Active ingredients in pesticides and pesticides: physico-chemical and toxicological data. Chemie-Wirtschaftsförderungs-Gesellschaft, publisher, 3rd, revised edition, BLV-Verlag-Ges., Munich / Vienna / Zurich 2000, ISBN 3-405-15809-5 . (Earlier editions published by the Industrial Association of Plant Protection eV)
  • Action plan for risk reduction and sustainable use of plant protection products , report of the Federal Council, 6 September 2017.

Web links

Commons : Sprayers  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Plant protection products  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

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