Insights: Global Insights

EU Insights: A Primer on European Union Pesticide Policies

This first in a series of articles on insights into the European Union, provides a brief summary of the three pillars that make up the EU’s pesticide policy.

“BCI has a well-established system to monitor the active ingredients that are undergoing review in the EU and can provide advance notice to growers and exporters when a substance is likely to face renewal of approval challenges in the EU.”

This article is part of a special series that provide insights into How the EU’s Pesticide Policy and Farm to Fork Strategy Could Impact Your Business. The European Union is one of the largest importers of agricultural products, importing over $121 billion from countries around the world in 2021. This trade, however, faces numerous challenges as the EU implements its pesticide and maximum residue levels policies. To ensure international agribusinesses stay informed about regulatory changes and trade developments, Bryant Christie Inc. will explore key aspects of EU policies. The series will conclude with a webinar designed to provide additional information and answer questions.

The European Union’s pesticide policy is based on three pillars that govern maximum residue levels, approval of active ingredients, and the sustainable use of pesticides. Awareness of these policies is critical to helping U.S. agribusinesses avoid regulatory noncompliance and to prevent market access restrictions in the future.

I. Maximum Residue Levels in Food and Feed. Regulation (EC) No 396/2005 covers all matters related to pesticide maximum residue levels (MRLs) in or on food and feed for the 27 countries which make up the European Union. EU wide MRLs came into effect from September 1, 2008, consolidating and replacing individual MRLs in Member States. The goal of the EU MRL systems was to facilitate trade and promote food safety. MRL regulations apply to food produced inside or outside the European Union. MRLs have been established for 315 fresh products and for 1,400 substances currently or previously used within or outside the EU. In cases where there is no established MRL for a particular crop/pesticide combination, exporters to the EU can apply for an import MRL. Otherwise, the default MRL of 0.01 ppm (mg/kg) applies.

Article 12 of this regulation provides for the review of all MRLs, based on a calendar published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). For stakeholders interested in submitting comments during this MRL review process, it is possible to provide relevant information at the start of the review, as well as submit comments via the World Trade Organization (WTO) when proposed changes are notified to the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Committee (WTO/ SPS).

It is important to note that the EU does not automatically adopt Codex MRLs. The EU has a process to review whether Codex MRLs can be taken over in EU legislation. In practice, the EU has put forward multiple reservations to proposed Codex MRLs in recent years, which resulted in the EU not adopting these Codex MRLs as their own.

II. Approval of Active Ingredients. Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 governs the process for approval and renewal of approval of active ingredients for all pesticides used in the EU. All active ingredients must be approved at the Union level and are then authorized for use by a Member State.

The approval and renewal process is extensive and takes at least three years to complete. This regulation excludes from approval or renewal substances that have certain human or environmental characteristics. Since 2018 over 35 active ingredients have had their approval restricted to greenhouse use only or have not been renewed at all based on these “cut off” criteria.

Once pesticides are no longer approved for use in the EU, their MRLs are often reduced to the limit of detection (LOD) or the default MRL (0.01 ppm). For this reason, monitoring the pesticide review process in the EU has become an important issue for exporters to the EU to anticipate potential changes in MRLs.

Bryant Christie has a well-established system to monitor the active ingredients that are undergoing review in the European Union and can provide advance notice to growers and exporters when a substance is likely to face renewal of approval challenges in the EU. BCI prepares the quarterly USDA’s EU Early Alert – Pesticide Review report as well as CropLife’s International EU Pesticide Renewal Monitor.

For additional information on BCI’s EU monitoring services, please contact

III. Framework for the Sustained Use of Pesticides. Directive 2009/128/CE establishes a framework that is meant to reduce the risks to human health and the environment that are associated with pesticide use. As it is a Directive and not a Regulation, it is up to EU Member State to implement national laws that achieve the EU goals. This Directive is under review and, in line with the objectives laid out by the Farm to Fork Strategy, the European Commission has proposed a new draft regulation for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation (SUR). This draft regulation was published in June 2022. BCI has prepared a review of the main points of this proposal which appears in a separate article within this EU Insights series.

Together these two regulations and this directive guide overall EU pesticide policies, including MRL reviews, pesticide approval and renewals, and how pesticides can be sustainably used within the European Union. The Farm to Fork Strategy’s goals are influencing the implementation of these regulations and will continue to do so going forward.

Bryant Christie will further explore how these changes can impact exporters to the EU in subsequent posts in the EU Insights section. If you or your organization have any questions on how Bryant Christie can assist in navigating this challenging EU pesticide regulatory environment, please contact us at

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