Departmental responsibilities regarding pesticides

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is responsible for implementing EU legislation on agricultural pesticides (or plant protection products) in Northern Ireland.

DAERA's pesticide legislation

Under the EU Withdrawal Agreement’s PROTOCOL ON IRELAND/NORTHERN IRELAND, the EU system for regulating pesticides continues to apply directly to Northern Ireland.

From 1 January 2021, an independent pesticides regulatory regime is in operation in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). This means that new decisions taken under the EU regime do not apply in Great Britain. This includes active substance and maximum residue level (MRL) decisions and any new EU plant protection product (PPP) legislation.

DAERA is responsible for the following key pieces of pesticides legislation:

DAERA's pesticides roles and responsibilities

DAERA is the Competent Authority responsible for implementing the EU pesticide related legislation and for pesticide policy; and ensuring compliance related to the placing on the market and sustainable use of pesticides and pesticide residues in Northern Ireland.

DAERA is also the competent authority responsible for the organisation of official controls and of other official activities for the purposes of ensuring operators compliance with the rules for the authorisation, marketing and use of plant protection products and pesticide residues. This includes official controls on active substances and safeners, synergists, co-formulants and adjuvants. Further information on Official Controls relating to pesticides is available here.

The Chemicals Regulation Division of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), under Agency Agreement, deliver a number of Competent Authority functions on our behalf including:

  • the evaluation and authorisation of pesticides for sale and use in NI;
  • setting out the conditions of use of authorised pesticides;
  • authorising aerial spraying, establishing the specific conditions under which aerial spraying may be carried out and issuing permits;
  • preparing, publishing and submitting to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) the annual Northern Ireland Pesticide Residues Control Plan; and
  • the operational delivery of our annual monitoring programme for pesticides residues in the UK food supply no matter where it was produced;

With an emphasis on prevention, we work to encourage and support operators to ensure compliance with the law through compliance promotion, stakeholder engagement and best practice guidance. Guidance on operator responsibilities and links to published guidance including the Code of Practice for Using Plant Protection Products is available here.

Approval of Pesticides in Northern Ireland

Before any pesticide product can be used, sold, supplied or stored in Northern Ireland it must be authorised for use. All pesticide approvals in the NI are determined under Regulation (EC) 1107/2009 concerning the placing of plant protection products on the market.

Active substances must first be approved before the pesticide products containing them are authorised for use. For NI, active substance applications are reviewed and approved by the European Commission. Approval is only given following a rigorous assessment of safety and any risks to human health and the environment which involves the European Food Safety Authority, Member States and scientific experts.

The EU Active Substance Database  contains information on active substances (including those that are low-risk or candidates for substitution) and basic substances, either approved or non-approved in the EU.

Once an active substance is approved in Europe, companies can then apply to the national regulatory authority (HSE) for permission to place their pesticide product on the market in NI. Further information on how to apply for a pesticide product authorisation including links to application forms is available on the HSE website.

HSE maintains a number of databases on pesticide products for use in GB & NI, including:

These databases identify the extent of the authorisation as GB+NI, GB only or NI only. Please be aware that there can be a time lag between new authorisations being issued and their details appearing on the website databases. A similar delay can also occur when changes are made to existing authorisations.

Pesticide Maximum Residue Levels

A maximum residue level (MRL) is the maximum concentration of a pesticide residue in or on food or feed that is legally tolerated when a pesticide is applied correctly (following good agricultural practice).

MRLs are set in accordance with Regulation (EC) No 396/2005 by the European Commission, following assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). EU MRLs apply to food or feed produced in or imported into and marketed within Northern Ireland. You can search for current EU MRLs in food stuffs on the EU Pesticides Residues database.

Annex I of Regulation (EC) 396/2005 lists products of plant and animal origin to which MRLs apply. According to footnote 1 to Annex I “MRLs do not apply to products or part of products that by their characteristics and nature are used exclusively as ingredients of animal feed, until separate MRLs are set …”. DAERA, DEFRA and the Scottish and Welsh Governments interpret the footnote in the same way and agree that, legally, the current MRLs apply equally to food and animal feed and that feed and feed ingredients are only exempt from MRLs if the particular product(s) or part of the product(s) could not be used for human consumption or is never used for human consumption due to characteristics or nature such as citrus pulp or soya hulls.  Labelling for animal feed is not sufficient to exclude a commodity from MRLs.

The UK Government has committed to unfettered access for qualifying Northern Ireland goods moving to the rest of the UK market. This means treated produce from Northern Ireland produced in accordance with EU pesticide MRLs can be placed on the market in Great Britain even if EU and GB pesticide MRLs diverge, if it is a qualifying Northern Ireland good. Goods treated with a Great Britain (GB) only authorisation can only be marketed in Northern Ireland (NI) if the relevant EU MRL is in place.

Monitoring of pesticide residues in food

We are required by Regulation (EC) 396/2005 and Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/1355 to establish a national control programme for pesticide residues with the dual purpose of assessing consumer exposure and compliance with legislation. In addition, we must also participate in an EU control programme.

We are required to submit our updated national control programme for pesticide residues and the results of our monitoring programme to the Commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on an annual basis.

The Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) provides independent advice to the UK Government on the monitoring of pesticide residues in food in the UK and works closely with HSE in planning the GB and NI residue surveillance programmes in domestically produced and imported food and drink. Sampling is targeted towards foods common in the UK diet and those where residues are expected.

We are legally required to publish all results of our national residue monitoring and EU monitoring on the Internet. Our results are published alongside the GB results in Quarterly Reports on the Gov.UK website and as a yearly report in the Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) Annual Report.

Official Controls List of Operators

As competent authority, DAERA has a requirement under Regulation (EC) 625/2017 to maintain a list of pesticide operators and carry out official controls.

For that purpose, DAERA has developed a registration application through which all those who use pesticides as part of their work activity and all those involved in the supply chain of pesticides for both professional and amateur use must register. For more guidance and to apply online click here.

Official Laboratory for Pesticide Residues

Under the Official Controls Regulation, DAERA must designate Official Laboratories for a range of laboratory functions. The Northern Ireland Protocol explicitly states that the functions of OLs, as set out in OCR, cannot be fulfilled by the OLs of the UK, but can be fulfilled by OLs within other EU Member States on behalf of Northern Ireland. 

SCL Laboratorie de Paris (DGCCRF – DGDDI) was designated on 12 October 2022 as a DAERA Official Laboratory responsible for the analysis of samples for the presence of pesticide residues collected as part of the national monitoring programme and EU co-ordinated monitoring programme.

Monitoring pesticide usage in agriculture and amenity

The NI Pesticide Usage Surveys help us monitor pesticide usage practices in agriculture. The NI surveys form part of UK wide monitoring commissioned by the Expert Committee on Pesticides with NI data collected by the Agri-foods Bioscience Institute (AFBI). The surveys follow a biennial cycle. UK wide surveys are published on the Fera Science Ltd website

Amenity Pesticide Usage is currently published only at a UK wide level. This survey is carried out every four years.  The reports are published on the Fera Science Ltd Website (link above).

Monitoring pesticides in drinking water

The monitoring of pesticides in water is undertaken under the Water Framework Directive. A programme of monitoring of surface waters and groundwaters in Drinking Water Protected Areas (DWPAs) has been agreed by NIEA and NI Water. This has been supplemented by a programme of screening for a range of pesticides in those DWPAs deemed most at risk. This monitoring provides valuable data to assess the risks of pesticide to water.

UK National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (Plant Protection Products)

The UK’s National Action Plan (NAP) was published in 2013. It sets out the policy framework shared by all UK Governments to achieve a sustainable use of pesticides, specifically by reducing the risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment and promoting the use of integrated pest management and of alternative approaches or techniques such as non-chemical alternatives to pesticides.

Defra working closely with DAERA and the other Devolved Administrations throughout, and in consultation with stakeholders, are currently drafting a revised National Action Plan.

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