United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

The EU framework for the sustainable use of pesticides

European Commission (
Intergovernmental organization

    Against the backdrop of increasing societal concerns around the impact of pesticide use on human health and on the environment, the Directive on the sustainable use of pesticides (SUD) (Directive 2009/128/EC) aims to achieve the reduction of the risks and impacts of pesticide use, and the promotion of the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and of alternative approaches or techniques, such as non-chemical alternatives to pesticides. EU countries have drawn up National Action Plans to implement the range of actions set out in the Directive. The main actions relate to training of users, advisors and distributors of pesticides, inspection of pesticide application equipment, the prohibition of aerial spraying, limitation of pesticide use in sensitive areas, and information and awareness raising about pesticide risks.

    Implementation of the Project/Activity

    The implementation of the SUD is largely based on actions to be taken at EU Member State level. Member States are required to produce National Action Plans (NAPs) setting out quantitative objectives, targets, measures and timetables. The European Commission assisted Member States though sereval actions, including: • Fact finding missions to a number of Member States in 2017 to collect informtion on implementation; • Commission audits in four Member States in 2018 and in seven Member States in 2019 and to one Member State in 2020 to investigate the overall progresses; • Responses to a letter from the Commission to four Member States in October 2018 further clarifying specific weaknesses in their initial NAPs; • Responses of 24 Member States to a Commission survey in December 2018 on the reviews of their initial NAPs, • Biannual SUD Working Group meetings organised by the Commission, and a specific IPM Workshop in 2019; • BTSF trainings on IPM implementation at farm level as well as on pesticide application equipment since 2017 (ongoing) for Member States’ officials, but also agricultural advisors and researchers. The Commission's dedicated SUD web-portal hosts all NAPs, both initial and revised. All audit reports are also available. As regards monitoring, Member States are to set targets and indicators in their NAPs in order to measure implementation at national level. This is verified by the Commission during audits. At EU level, the European Commission - together with EU Member states - established two Harmonised Risk Indicators (HRI 1 and 2), which have been published for the second time in 2020.


    Designed to show the evolution in the risks linked to human health and the environment from pesticide use, the SUD Harmonised Risk Indicators represent a significant output of the practice. The European Commission is obliged to calculate and publish the HRIs at EU level, while each Member State is obliged to calculate and publish the Harmonised Risk Indicators at national level. Member States must also identify trends in the use of certain active substances, and identify priority items or good practices. There are currently two Harmonised Risk Indicators. The Commission plans to extend the number of Harmonised Risk Indicators in the future. Moreover, the HRI1 methodology will be used to establish an indicator specifically devoted to measure progresses towards the achievement of the F2F pesticide targets. The HRI 1 is also on the list of policy targets for EU SDG monitoring 2021 (SDG 2). The HRIs allow to monitor the results of the SUD implementation. The two Indicators are published annually. At EU level, based on HRI 1, the risk resulting from pesticide use has already shown a downward trend (-17%) for the period 2011-2018. Publication of the trends for the F2F pesticide indicators are planned in 2021 (for the first time and thereafter annually), in addition to the already published trends on HRIs. These trends are expected to also cross-fertilise the implementation of other policies, such as the Common Agricultural Policy, by Member States in the next decade.

    Enabling factors and constraints

    Implementation of SUD is in the hand of the EU Member States. It has been slow in the beginning, as several of the latter incurred in delays in transposing the Directive into national law. Since 2016, however, the Commission has taken increased action to support implementation. Societal awareness has been growing around the sustainability of food production, of which the sustainable use of pesticides is an important component, as reflected in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the European Commission's Reflection Paper "Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030". This awareness manifested itself in a 2017 European Citizens Initiative calling on the Commission to inter alia set European Union-wide mandatory reduction targets for pesticide use. The 2020 Farm to Fork Strategy acknowledges the negative effects chemical pesticides can have on the environment and human health and establishes ambious pesticide reduction targets to be achieved by 2030. Against this background, the SUD moved up on the EU’s political agenda and the concrete pesticide reduction targets formulatd in the Farm to Fork Strategy are being now widely discussed in Europe. This further increases stakholders’s expectations to see these targets reflected across the policy board and in various programmes, e.g. in the the National Strategic Plans under the Common Agricultural Polcy.

    Sustainability and replicability

    At EU internal level, the European Commission has recently lauched the evaluation of the sustainable use of pesticides directive with a view to a possible revision. This process will help to understand what measures – if any - are needed to further improve the implementation of the SUD and what economic, environmental and social impacts can be expected. An assessment of whether legally binding pesticide targests should be incorporated in the revised SUD will also be carried out. The utlimate goal is to ensure the continuous relevance of the EU framework for the sustainable use of pesticides with a view to its contribution to achieving the Farm to Fork pesticide targets in 2030 and, at the same time, several SDGs targets, in particular 2.4 and 12.4. On a global note, the EU will suild on the SUD practice to support the global transition to sustainable agri-food systems, in line with the objectives of this Farm to Fork Strategy and the SDGs. Through its external policies, including international cooperation and trade policy, the EU will pursue the development of Green Alliances on sustainable food systems with all its partners in bilateral, regional and multilateral fora. EU trade policy in particulat should contribute to enhance cooperation with and to obtain ambitious commitments from third countries in key areas such as the use of pesticides.

    Other sources of information

    In 2017, the European Commission established a dedicated SUD web-portal, as proposed by the Expert Group on sustainable plant protection set up under the Dutch Presidency of the EU in 2016, to facilitate the exchange of relevant information on SUD and IPM. https://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/pesticides/sustainable_use_pesticides_en

    COVID-19 Impact

    The Farm to Fork Strategy advocates for all citizens and operators across the food value chains, in the EU and elsewhere, to be able to benefit from a just transition to a sustainable food system, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn. A shift to a sustainable food system can bring environmental, health and social benefits, offer economic gains and ensure that the recovery from the crisis puts us onto a sustainable path. The sustainable use of pesticides contributes to this sustainable path.

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    01 January 2020 (start date)
    31 December 2030 (date of completion)
    European Commission
    Other beneficiaries

    When establishing and modifying their SUD NAPs, Member States must ensure that relevant stakeholders are consulted, including NGOs, such as those promoting environmental protection. Moreover, the European Commission organises bi-annual meetings of the SUD Working Group of Member States, to discuss implementation, and to exchange best practices. Relevant stakeholders such as Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe, the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) and SPISE (Standardised Procedure for the Inspection of Sprayers in Europe) have presented their work at recent meetings of the Working Group. The Commission has supported Member States to implement the SUD through Better Training for Safer Food (BTSF) courses, targetting in particular Member States officals but also agricultural advisors, researchers and inspectors. These included • 18 BTSF courses on pesticide application equipment from 2015 to 2019, which were attended by over 320 participants from all 28 Member States, and • 14 BTSF courses focusing on the implementation of IPM starting in 2018 and will run until 2022. The knowledge gained through these courses should provide Member States with the necessary tools to assess the implementation of IPM at farm level. Established in 2017, the SUD web-portal facilitates the exchange of relevant information between Member States, and other stakeholders, on SUD and Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Stakeholders can find out key information about the sustainable use of pesticides such as the publication of the trends in HRIs, policy development in the area of pesticides, and links to relevant information contained on official websites in the EU Member States. 27 Member States have provided a total of 240 links to websites, searchable by both topic and Member State, in order to facilitate sharing relevant information among interested parties.

    Contact Information

    Laia , Policy officer SDGs