Rise in use of problematic plant protection products

Marked increase in sales of environmentally hazardous insecticides

Honigbiene im RapsfeldClick to enlarge
Several plant protection products have been known for many years to be harmful to bees.
Source: Thomas Stüber / Fotolia

Sales volumes of plant protection products (pesticides) in the agricultural sector remain high, says data from the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL). After a temporary decline in sales in 2018/2019, farmers demonstrated greater demand for specific problematic active substances, including insecticides that are dangerous to bees and herbicides critical to groundwater. The German Environment Agency (UBA) says that the main reason is likely the exceptional drought in 2018 and 2019 which led to a lull temporary lull in pesticide sales. UBA President Dirk Messner said: "For more than 40 years, sales of pesticides in German agriculture have stayed more or less unchanged. We are concerned that sales of problematic substances are increasing. The use of synthetic chemical pesticides must be significantly reduced if agriculture is to become sustainable. UBA proposes measures at EU and national level to this end.”

The Farm to Fork Strategy at the heart of the European Green Deal provides for action to cut the use and risk of chemical pesticides by half by 2030. To implement this target in Germany, UBA proposes adopting the target in the National Action Plan on the Sustainable Use of Plant Protection Products (NAP) and flanking it with concrete measures.

UBA believes that it must become possible to ban active substances that are particularly harmful to the environment by means of national regulations, as is already the case in France. A corresponding legal basis would have to be created to ensure that national bans are legally secure. Low-pesticide cultivation methods as well as organic farming and the ambitious implementation of integrated pest management should be promoted more strongly, for example with the funds earmarked for this purpose in the EU's Common Agricultural Policy. Furthermore, UBA advises that so-called refugial sites on agricultural land that have not been treated with pesticides should be created. These refuges can offset the negative effects for flora and fauna of any continued use of pesticides. Furthermore, UBA proposes the introduction of a pesticide tax following the example of Denmark in order to create incentives to reduce pesticide use in agriculture.

To achieve the aim of the Farm to Fork Strategy, the NAP must define interim targets. In order to track these targets and evaluate the success of measures, authorities and the scientific community need information on actual quantities applied and areas treated. This requires a low-threshold and secure infrastructure so that farmers can transmit corresponding data in digital form and the research community and authorities can use it in anonymised form.

Figures in detail

After the general decline in sales of pesticides in 2018/2019, only fungicides sales continued to decline in 2020. Sales volumes of herbicides increased slightly again in 2020, by 2% over 2018/2019. Insecticides, on the other hand, saw a very strong increase in 2020 (+18%).

The neonicotinoids imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, clothianidin and thiacloprid, which are toxic to bees, were banned in 2018 and 2020. However, sales of insecticides intended to replace neonicotinoids but which also have strong side effects on the environment rose sharply in 2020. Sales of such substances increased by between 13% and 80% in 2020, depending on the group of active substances.

Sales of critical substances for groundwater and drinking water also increased in 2020. The weed killer flufenacet was purchased more frequently than ever before, its sales having doubled since 2014 and increased by 32 percent last year alone. Flufenacet forms the persistent degradation product trifluoroacetate (TFA), which is widespread in water bodies and drinking water and is difficult to remove from the environment. Because of its unfavourable properties for the environment, the EU has designated this active ingredient as a substitution candidate since 2004. This means that the aim is to be replaced by less harmful substances. Germany has not yet achieved a reduction in its use.

Sales of the herbicides terbuthylazine (+12%) and s-metolachlor (+5%) were also more frequent in 2020 than in 2018 and 2019. Both active substances and their degradation products have been detected in groundwater throughout Germany for many years and also found in drinking water. There has been no reversal in this trend despite voluntary efforts by industry and agriculture.

Further information

The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) compiles and provides annual reports on sales quantities of active substances in plant protection products in Germany. These are sales figures only and do not reflect the distribution to individual federal Länder or of individual products.

Umweltbundesamt Hauptsitz

Wörlitzer Platz 1
06844 Dessau-Roßlau
Germany