Harmonised risk indicators

The framework directive for the sustainable use of pesticides obligates EU member states to reduce health and environmental risks caused by the use of plant protection products. To monitor reductions in risks, the European Commission has designed two harmonised risk indicators as monitoring tools. The indicators are based on:

  • sales volumes (HRI 1)
  • number of derogations  (HRI 2).

The Commission calculates the risk indicators for each member state annually based on sales data and the number of derogations collected and reported by member states.

Harmonised risk indicator HRI 1

The indicator measures change in the sales volumes of active substances of plant protection products compared to the average between the years 2011–2013 (indicator value = 100). Active substances are divided into four categories. Each category has been assigned a weighting to be used when adding together the sales volumes of each category (see Figure 1).

  • Category 1: Low-risk active substances (weighting factor 1) shown by risk assessments to cause less harm than other substances.
  • Category 2: Active substances not included in any other category (weighting factor 8). Most active substances fall under this category, including glyphosate, MCPA and urea.
  • Category 3: Active substances which are candidates for substitution (weighting factor 16) and pose more problems than others in their characteristics. For example, persistent (such as aclonifen) and carcinogenic substances fall under this category.
  • Category 4: Substances (weighting factor 64) no longer approved for use in the EU at the time of calculation.

Harmonised risk indicator

Figure 1. The harmonized risk indicator I describes the change in weighted sales volumes in relation to the average for 2011-2013 (indicator value = 100). Taking all substances into account, the (black) indicator is on a fairly steady rise. If urea is excluded from the calculations, the (cyan) indicator is correspondingly slightly reduced.

Annual sales volumes

Figure 2. Sales of plant protection products are centred on category 2 substances, of which urea and glyphosate are the most sold.

The indicator has started to decrease due to lower sales of urea

Based on the indicator, overall risk caused by the use of plant protection products has increased in Finland during the monitoring period 2011–2020 (Figure 1). However, it should be noted that the indicator includes all four categories and therefore the sales volumes of all active substances of products placed on the market.

Despite weighting factors, the effects of category 3 and 4 substances, i.e. those which have been substituted or are planned for substitution, is only minor due to their small sales volumes. The same applies to low-risk substances in category 1. Category 2 substances have the greatest impact (88–97 %) on the indicator’s value due to their high sales volumes (Figure 2).

In this category, urea is clearly the most sold product, amounting to 73 % of the category’s total sales. Therefore, urea also has a high impact on the risk indicator. The increased sales volume alone explains the increasing trend in 2011–2020. At the same time, sales of other substances had decreased from the comparison period 2011–2013. The use of urea is linked to felling volumes. It is known that felling volumes were lower in 2019 than in the previous year. Urea is used as a repellent against root rot in forests. The Finnish Forest Damages Prevention Act obligates forest owners to carry out pest management in loggings of predominantly coniferous forests during the summer. Urea is also used as a fertilizer in agriculture and forestry. Unlike most plant protection products, urea is not primarily designed with the intent to kill the repelled organisms.

Changes in the harmonised risk indicator by category

Figure 3. The category-specific indicator presents change in the sales volumes of the category in question compared with sales in the same category during 2011–2013 (HRI = 100). 

Figure 3 presents risk indicator trends for the years 2011–2020 based on the weighted sales volumes of all four categories. The graphs are not mutually comparable as each starts from its own average levels. Sales of low risk substances (category 1) are many times lower than sales of category 2 substances.

Risk indicator HRI 2 on the annual number of authorisations by derogation for the use of plant protection products in Finland

By separate application, Tukes may grant an authorisation by derogation for a plant protection product in cases where no product for pest management has been granted for sale in the member state or no other means of pest management are available.

The use of substances authorised by derogation must be limited in scope and supervised, and the authorisation is valid for 120 days at a time. Derogations may also be granted to biological preparations or for the use of a previously approved substance for a target not listed on the label.
Findings from the indicator on the number of derogations are presented in Figure 4. The value of the indicator fluctuates considerably from year to year as unexpected growth in the population of an individual pest species may result in increased need for pest management. An example of this was the greatly increased populations of silver Y moths as the result of favourable weather conditions in summer 2018. Granting derogations was the only available option to protect harvests of legumes, oil plants and broad beans across large areas against pest damages by silver Y moths.

Finland constitutes only a marginal market for plant protection products, and suppliers are not always interested in applying for a sales permit due to financial reasons. For example, Finland produces specialty crops cultivated on small farms and for which only a limited range of plant protection products is available. Moreover, several active substances vital for pest management have been pulled from the market in recent years. Under these circumstances, applying for a derogation is often the only means to quickly obtain plant protection products to ensure harvests of crops cultivated on small farms.

Myönnettyjen poikkeuslupien määrä oli suurin vuonna 2018

Figure 4. Number of authorisations by derogation between 2011–2019.

Table 1 lists the numbers of derogations authorised by Tukes between 2013–2019. The number of derogations authorised in Finland is the lowest among EU member states.

Year Total derogations Insecticides Herbicides Fungicides Growth regulators
2013 4 3     1
2014 11 8 2   1
2015 8 5 2   1
2016 16 9 5 1 1
2017 10 4 4 1 1
2018 18 12 3 2 1
2019 20 14 3 2 1
Total 67 41 16 4 6

Reducing risks caused by the use of plant protection products

The purpose of the harmonised risk indicators is to monitor how member states are able to meet the objectives of the framework directive on the sustainable use of pesticides and reduce health and environmental risks caused by the use of plant protection products. The indicator by the European Commission is still unrefined and does not take into account the actual method of use of a substance or the adverse impact on users and the environment, for example.

Through communication, advice and training, we strive to instruct on the use of plant protection products and reduce the risks of use.  Communication is versatile and carried out across multiple channels. Increasing awareness on the risks of plant protection products among both professional and occasional users is an important part of the National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Plant Protection Products. Crop production methods to prevent plant pest infestation, following the principles of integrated plant protection, are key in reducing the use and risks of plant protection agents. 

It should be kept in mind, however, that the annual sales and use of plant protection products is influenced by several factors. Widespread and large populations of individual plant pest species may heighten the need for pest management and result in a significant increase in the use of certain plant protection products during a specific growing season.  Increased populations of a plant pest may be due to exceptional weather conditions or even the dispersion of pests by air streams.

Plant protection products containing active substances of particular concern

The European Commission obliges Member States to monitor the use and sale of plant protection products containing active substances of particular concern, as well as the development of the related harmonised risk indicators. In Finland, products containing the following active substances of particular concern were selected for monitoring: glyphosate, azoxystrobin, deltamethrin, esfenvalerate and indoxacarb. The substances were selected in cooperation with experts from, for example, the Finnish Beekeepers’ Association, the Finnish Environment Institute and Tukes.

Glyphosate was chosen as one of the active substances of particular concern to be monitored because it is the most sold plant protection product in Finland and worldwide and its carcinogenic nature is debated. Azoxystrobin is a widely used fungicide that is often found in surface water monitoring by the Finnish Environment Institute, although in low concentrations. There is a global concern over the decline in insect populations, which is why the pesticides deltamethrin, esfenvalerate and indoxacarb were selected as substances of particular concern to be monitored. These substances are very toxic to aquatic organisms, as well as to non-target insects.