Any chemical or other product used to control pests, diseases and weeds is strictly legislated, under EU and, therefore, UK law. Pesticides are unlikely to be any less strictly regulated after the UK leaves the EU. Pesticides are substances designed to kill or control the growth and behaviour of living organisms and therefore their use carries a degree of risk. Withdrawal of the most potentially hazardous pesticides has reduced this risk, but some risk remains and using pesticides is not something gardeners should undertake lightly.
The legislation, Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 and associated regulations (The Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012 for example) extend to wood preservatives, animal repellents and materials that control plant growth such as hormone rooting powders. Fertilisers and garden disinfectants and cleaning materials are not considered pesticides, although they may be covered by legislation relating to ‘biocides’.
All pesticides must be approved. While it is not illegal to use unapproved materials such as washing up liquid, coffee, vinegar or baking powder, it is good practice to only use products that are officially approved for use in the garden. It is illegal to sell unapproved products for use as pesticides.
The legislation covering pesticides provides that users of products approved for professional use must be trained or experienced to established levels and that they ensure use of pesticides is lawful. Codes of practice provide guidance on how to use pesticides without breaking the law. Products sold to gardeners can be used without training or experience, as long as the directions for use on the label are followed.
A range of products available for UK gardeners can be found on our annually updated lists;
How are pesticides developed?
Pesticide manufacturers screen thousands of potentially active molecules for pesticidal activity, and occasionally when they find a promising one spend at least 10 years and very large sums of money indeed in bringing a safe, reliable, usable product to market. The testing process is now very rigorous indeed and relatively few new chemical products are likely to be marketed to gardeners in future; older products will either be retested and reapproved at very great cost or withdrawn from the market. This huge outlay is usually only worthwhile for crops grown on millions of acres, and horticultural crops usually only get products that have a wider use in agriculture. Of the products offered to commercial producers very few are suitable for use by people with no training and without the sophisticated application machines and protective garments used by professionals.
Most products are therefore usually produced for agricultural crops; some of these receive more specialised approval for use on horticultural crops; and finally a very few, especially safe products are offered to home gardeners. A vital part of controlling garden pesticide use is the label. The label directions are designed to ensure that any contamination of food or the environment is within approved limits. All aspects of the label are regulated as part of the approval process.
The approval procedure is covered by European Union law, which is put into effect in Britain by the Chemical Regulation Directorate, part of the Health and Safety Executive.