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28 Apr 2022 < Back

Could the new herbicide Regulations 2020 be a game changer?

New Government legislation on Plant Protection Products (OCR 2020) looks fairly straightforward but we delve deep and ask “does it actually signal a big shift in the way herbicides etc., will be regulated in the future”? Herbicides are an important tool in our armoury against invasive weeds. Alongside other pesticides they have always (in my working lifetime at least) been subject to stringent controls. First there was the voluntary Pesticides Safety Precaution Scheme ('70s), then the statutory Control of Pesticides Regulations ('80s). Some changes were enacted in the '90s, '00s and '10’s so that now we operate under the Plant Protection Products Regulations 2011, and the Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012. But what does this all mean...?

What do all the Regulations achieve?

Essentially, the Regulations achieve two main objectives:

  1. ensuring all products placed on the market are fully vetted and approved by independent (Government) experts who set ‘Conditions of Use’ and,
  2. establishing a risk assessment framework under which users are required to identify clear justification for use and the minimisation of application rates and frequency in-line with the principles of Integrated Pest Management.

The new legislation – OCR 2020 – doesn’t really change any of these fundamentals. What it does do, is bring in to UK law an important new EU Regulation which spells out the kind of controls/enforcements that are required to, amongst other things, ensure that herbicides etc., are only used ‘as directed’ by competent persons and in a responsible way. Historically these responsibilities have been assigned to local authorities but under these Regulations the Government has given the job to HSE & Defra. To find out more we could do worse than mine the HSE’s statement on these Regulations…..

HSE’s statement on these Regulations

  • Smarter Rules for Safer Food (SRSF) has been established to ensure consumers’ confidence and the sustainability of (principally) food production (but non-agricultural use of herbicides etc., is covered too).
  • The Official Controls (Plant Protection Products) Regulations 2020 (OCR 2020) enable regulatory authorities to support compliance and enforce legal requirements throughout the supply chain.
  • Purpose of OCR 2020 is to enable Ministers to understand how PPPs are being sold and used in Great Britain, to support businesses and organisations to be compliant with their legal obligations and to ensure PPPs are used sustainably and in accordance with the conditions of use.
  • Who needs to comply with OCR 2020:
    • Businesses that produce, manufacture, process, import, store, distribute and sell PPPs, their components and adjuvants to be used with PPPs are subject to the 2020 regulations (deadline for Registration passed last September)
    • Any person or business that uses PPPs and any adjuvants in a professional capacity in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) are also subject to the 2020 Regulations, and therefore have a legal obligation to register (by June 22nd 2022).

A “professional user” is any person or business who uses PPPs in the course of their work activities.

  • How to comply with the 2020 Regulations - Businesses and others subject to the 2020 Regulations are required to notify the relevant competent authority of their organisation name, activities and location of premises. Defra will collect information on behalf of the Scottish and Welsh Governments. Users of professional PPPs and retailers of amateur PPPs must register using this form by 22 June 2022. If you are based in Northern Ireland, you will need to register with the Northern Irish Government. These are statutory deadlines and failure to comply with these requirements without a reasonable excuse is an offence.
  • Inspection visits - The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will conduct Inspection visits under the powers given by the 2020 Regulations to ensure compliance with existing pesticides regulations.
  • Proactive risk-based approach to inspection visits - Businesses and others subject to the 2020 Regulations will be selected for inspection based on the risk profile of their organisation. HSE has developed this guidance on inspections. To summarise, they’ll check your storage/use records and otherwise want to see evidence of compliance with the PPP Code of Practice including ‘best practice’ IPM!

Clearly the main message from us to our members is to get the form and get Registered before 22nd June. The form really is very simple to complete; some basic details about your business, location (offices and stores if separate), the sector you work in and a declaration of your herbicide etc. usage (in Litres or kilos). As regards inspections you should be prepared already as PCA audits include many similar facets (check on chemical storage facilities, etc.).

Why is this a game changer?

So why do we think this apparently simple process could be a game changer? Two reasons.... The first is that the 2020 regulations bring all aspects of herbicide regulation under one roof for the first time. The Chemical Regulations Directorate which approves pesticide products is a department within the HSE. So although the above inspections will be conducted by another HSE department (Field Operations) we can and should expect there to be much more joined-up thinking and collaboration between those who assess product safety and those who assess safe product use! Enforcement of pesticide laws is bound to improve? Secondly, this exercise will generate a huge database of professional pesticide users and include data on spray application volumes. The usage data will be crude admittedly, as they are not yet asking for details of which products are stocked by each registered company but they can and will collect this data via inspections. Could this be the beginning of Government setting targets for reductions in pesticide use? This would be consistent with all the signalling we have seen about the upcoming National Action Plan for PPPs 2022 (to replace the current NAP) which will likely emphasise the need to comply with IPM and set targets for reductions in herbicide use.

Demonstrate your professionalism & embrace the change

Of course, this is a complex subject and many in our sector prefer to say that IPM is actually about ‘optimising’ herbicide use. Nevertheless, it seems that the Government’s desire to drive forward with green policies and show the world we are serious about UN targets for biodiversity, amongst other things, is likely to make the new NAP a somewhat more interesting read than usual! When all that has been said, we are confident that PCA members are able to comply with Pesticide Enforcement officer inspections should they arise and we will continue to provide advice and guidance on practical ways to demonstrate your professionalism. We should all embrace this change. A bit more bureaucracy yes, but just another way to show your clients that they are dealing with the professionals!

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