With the global demand for safe and plentiful food, clean drinking water, and long-lasting and stable products, the availability, and variety, of safe and effective biocides and pesticides is critical.
Depending on where you are on the globe, the word ‘Pesticide’ will mean something different; terminology is just the start of the regulatory challenges faced by this industry. In the EU, the sector is broadly divided into ‘Plant Protection Products’ and ‘Biocidal Products’, the key difference being how you intend to use the product. For example, an insect repellent used in the home to protect people from crawling insects would be considered a biocidal product, whereas a product based on the same active substance, but used to protect plants from the same insects would be considered a plant protection product. Head to the USA, however, and products such as disinfectants – considered a biocidal product in the EU – would be called ‘Antimicrobial Pesticides’.
The overall aim of many of the regulatory regimes in this industry sector is to ensure end-use products are safe and effective, and are being used sustainably by appropriate users. For example, evaluating the potential impact of a product on non-target organisms, quantifying maximum residue levels of pesticides in food or animal feed, or limiting the use of the most harmful, but essential, substances to professional users. This task also involves assessing the safety of the active substances present in the end-use products. In many cases these active substances are well known and ubiquitous e.g. ethanol, DEET, essential oils and triclosan. The task for industry is to work together to support these substances through the process of safety evaluation by submitting datasets to the relevant authorities. In the case of substances such as glyphosate, however, things can become more complicated and can involve high-level discussions and debates on the safety of its use and subsequently its continued availability on the market.
These complexities emphasise the need to keep track of the active substances used in pesticides. Biocides and plant protection products provide an essential contribution to human and environmental health and safety when used correctly; if active substances are not evaluated or are found to be unsafe, suitable alternatives must be identified and assessed to ensure we continue to enjoy the many benefits of such products.