Plant protection products (PPP) are either natural or synthetic substances that shall protect crops from pests and diseases. However, their application inevitably leads to entries into the environment. Against this background, the European Union member states are closely cooperating to reduce risks and adverse impacts on humans, animals or the ecosystem.
Every plant protection product contains one or more active substances and various co-formulants (e.g. solvents or emulsifiers). Among other things, the latter ensure that leaves are wetted more evenly or that UV radiation does not render an active substance ineffective too quickly. Several authorities acting independently of each other, such as the JKI, evaluate the risk associated with individual active substances and their mixture in plant protection products.
Stage 1: The pure active substance of a PPP has to pass an EU review process for approval. Basis for decision making is the review of all dossiers submitted by the applicant (PPP manufacturer). This review is carried out by the EU member state and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In the member states, various authorities may participate in the evaluation of active substances.
In Germany, the submitted dossiers are reviewed by the federal authorities for agriculture, human health and environment – namely the Julius Kühn Institute (JKI), the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and the Federal Environment Agency (UBA). The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) compiles their reviews and forwards them to EFSA.
Stage 2: The approval of an active substance does not automatically entail the admission of the whole PPP to the national market. The specific composition of the ready-to-use product must be tested for efficacy and for potential adverse impacts on the environment and consumers. In Germany, these tests are again undertaken by JKI, UBA and BfR. On the basis of their results, the BVL decides on the authorization of a PPP in Germany.
Within the scope of the approval of active substances or plant protection products, the JKI is dedicated to the following major areas of testing:
- Efficacy: Does the PPP have the desired effect? Does it suppress fungal or pest infestation, the growth of weeds? Does the crop tolerate the plant protection product? Are there any side effects on yield, quality and successive crops?
- Bee protection: Are there any hazards to honeybees and bumblebees?
- Beneficials: Does the plant protection product have harmful effects on beneficials or so-called „non-target“ organisms in soil or small water bodies?
These questions provide the framework for further investigations. For example, scientists at the JKI determine the minimum application rate of a plant protection product that is required to successfully control a target organism. They estimate whether and how quickly resistance can be expected to develop.
If the tests reveal that an agent adversely affects the crop, successive crops or non-target organisms (especially bees), the application instructions must be adjusted or the PPP must be labelled accordingly. It may also result in a complete refusal of approval.
More than 1,000 different plant species are cultivated as small and micro crops on just 2 percent of Germany's acreage. They include vegetable and ornamental plants, medicinal and aromatic plants, and many fruit crops. For these crops, few or no means and methods of plant protection are available. There is a "protection gap." This is because plant protection products (PPPs) are approved for use against specific harmful organisms in specific crops only. However, it is often uneconomical for PPP manufacturers to apply for approval for minor-use crops.
The JKI hosts the office of the BLAG-LÜCK, a joint working group of federal and Laender authorities to address minor use gaps. It works intensively on justified derogations for non-chemical and chemical PPPs in order to provide integrated and organic farming with suitable plant protection methods. Further information on this topic is available on the JKI knowledge portal of gap indications: https://lueckenindikationen.julius-kuehn.de/ (in German)
On the European level, the JKI, in cooperation with the Service Center for Rural Areas DLR Rheinpfalz, has been involved in setting up EUMUDA (European Minor Use Database): www.eumuda.eu
As the competent authority, the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) has compiled detailed information on the approval of PPPs on its website: www.bvl.bund.de (Plant protection products)