The House of Lords is scheduled to consider the following question for short debate on 23 November 2023:

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (Green Party) to ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of how the United Kingdom’s current agricultural fungicide use will affect long-term food and biological security.

1. What are agricultural fungicides and what impact do they have?

Fungicides are a type of pesticide that can destroy fungi or inhibit their growth.[1] In an agricultural context they are used to reduce crop losses by preventing or controlling plant disease caused by fungi.[2]

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) has said of the use of pesticides generally:

Pesticides help ensure food availability and affordability by enhancing crop productivity, improving appearance of produce and maintaining food safety. By preventing pest damage, moulds and toxins, they extend the shelf life of food and reduce food spoilage and waste.

However, there is debate on the amount of pesticide use necessary to provide food for a growing global population. Some academics, farming groups and charities suggest that reduced or minimal use of pesticides (such as in organic agriculture), combined with changes in diet and reduction of food waste, could produce enough food for people. Other academics state that this would require more land, potentially increasing greenhouse gas emissions. They, together with other farming stakeholders, maintain that a loss of pesticides would reduce food production, affecting food availability and affordability.[3]

The use of fungicides can have environmental impacts. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Fungicides can affect the gut microbial fauna of invertebrates, such as honeybees, although little is known about their impact on insects other than pollinators.[4]
  • The widespread use of chemical control products such as fungicides can drive problematic traits such as fungicide resistance, including in species that directly cause infections in humans.[5]
  • Agricultural fungicide runoff can affect freshwater environments when entering watercourses.[6]
  • People can be exposed to pesticides indirectly through their environment. Farmers are not required by law to notify people nearby when spraying is taking place, although this is regarded as best practice and voluntary initiatives encourage this. The health impacts from dietary exposures to pesticides are unclear.[7]
  • According to the European Environment Agency, strong or suspected links have been established between human exposure to chemical pesticides and an increased risk of chronic illnesses such as cancer and heart, respiratory and neurological diseases.[8]

2. Government policy

2.1 Agricultural use of pesticides in the UK

In July 2023, the government and the devolved authorities published a joint report on agriculture in the UK in 2022.[9] The report noted that “farm practices and the use of inputs (particularly fertilisers and pesticides) directly influence the environmental pressures from farming”. This included the “quality, composition and availability of habitats and impact on air, water and soils”.

The report also said agriculture contributes to the pollution of water bodies “through the leaching of fertilisers, pesticides, and manure (nutrients and faecal bacteria) as well as an increase in sediments”. It added that pesticides can be washed into water bodies by rainwater or may enter them directly if sprayed close to water. It said pesticides can also enter groundwater via soil infiltration. The report also noted that “diffuse water pollution from agriculture and rural land use have been directly attributed to 28% of failures to meet the [water framework directive] standards in England”.

On pesticide use in particular, the report observed:

Plant protection products (pesticides) are used to regulate growth and to manage pests and diseases in crops. They play a major role in maintaining high crop yields and therefore greater production from agricultural land. However, they can have detrimental impacts on the environment, particularly on terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity.

The need for pesticide usage varies from year to year depending on growing conditions, particularly the weather which influences disease, weed and pest pressures. In addition, longer term variations are due to changes in the range and activity of active substances, the economics of pest control, and resistance issues. In the United Kingdom the treated area of arable crops (number of hectares multiplied by number of applications) has remained relatively stable since 2008, whilst the total amount of pesticide applied (kg/ha) has shown an overall decline.

In recent years cereals accounted for the majority of both treated area and the weight of pesticides applied to arable crops in the United Kingdom […] The majority of UK cereals (more than 80%) are grown in England.

The report also included a table showing the application rates for different types of pesticides used on cereal crops in Great Britain between 2010 and 2020, including seed treatments:

Table 1. Pesticide use on cereals, Great Britain (kg/ha)
Year Fungicides Growth regulators Herbicides Insecticides Molluscicides Total
2010 0.20 0.60 0.39 0.07 0.19 1.46
2012 0.20 0.50 0.41 0.05 0.15 1.32
2014 0.22 0.49 0.40 0.03 0.13 1.27
2016 0.24 0.48 0.45 0.02 0.11 1.30
2018 0.24 0.47 0.48 0.02 0.12 1.32
2020 0.21 0.45 0.41 0.01 0.10 1.18

2.2 National action plan for the sustainable use of pesticides

In December 2020 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and partner departments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland published a consultation on a draft revised ‘UK national action plan for the sustainable use of pesticides’.[10] The government said it intended the revised plan to replace the 2013 version.[11]

The consultation document said the aim of the national action plan (NAP) was to “minimise the risks and impacts of pesticides to human health and the environment, while ensuring pests and pesticide resistance are managed effectively”. It said the action plan would focus on five key goals in support of this aim:

  • ensure continued robust regulation to protect our health and environment
  • support the development and uptake of integrated pest management
  • ensure those that use pesticides do so safely and sustainably
  • support the reduction of the risks associated with pesticides by setting clear targets by the end of 2022, and improving metrics and indicators
  • ensure that we work effectively with others to deliver the NAP goals

The government published a summary of responses in October 2021, which was later updated.[12] It noted that 38,500 consultation responses had been received, and that it planned to publish a final revised national action plan in spring 2022.

In July 2023 the government provided an update on the national action plan’s publication. It said it would publish the revised plan “this year”.[13] It had previously said the plan would set out the government’s ambition to “minimise the risks and impacts of pesticides to human health and the environment, including how we intend to increase the uptake of integrated pest management (IPM) across all sectors”. The government added that the revised plan would have due regard to the ‘Environmental principles policy statement’ published as required under the Environment Act 2021.[14]

In September 2023 the government said the UK was committed, as a party to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, to meeting a global target to “reduce the overall risks from pesticides and highly hazardous chemicals by at least half by 2030, as agreed at COP15 as part of the Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework”. It added the UK would need to update and submit its national biodiversity strategies and action plans by the 16th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity in 2024.[15]

3. Read more

Image by Freepik.


  1. Health and Safety Executive, ‘Pesticides’, accessed 17 November 2023; and POST, ‘Understanding insect decline: Data and drivers’, 11 March 2020. Return to text
  2. See also: POST, ‘Crop protection’, 1 June 2009. Return to text
  3. POST, ‘Pesticides and health’, 21 September 2021, p 6. Return to text
  4. POST, ‘Understanding insect decline: Data and drivers’, 11 March 2020. Return to text
  5. POST, ‘Plant biosecurity in Great Britain’, 4 July 2023. Return to text
  6. POST, ‘Reducing agricultural pressures on freshwater ecosystems’, 19 January 2022. Return to text
  7. POST, ‘Pesticides and health’, 21 September 2021, pp 7–9. Return to text
  8. European Environment Agency, ‘How pesticides impact human health and ecosystems in Europe’, updated 28 April 2023. Return to text
  9. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs et al, ‘Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2022’, updated 6 November 2023. Return to text
  10. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ‘Sustainable use of pesticides: Draft national action plan’, accessed 17 November 2023. Return to text
  11. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ‘Pesticides: UK national action plan’, 26 February 2013. Return to text
  12. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ‘Sustainable use of pesticides: Draft national action plan—summary of responses’, updated 15 December 2021. Return to text
  13. House of Commons, ‘Written question: Pesticides (191768)’, 10 July 2023. See also: House of Commons, ‘Written question: Pesticides (175562)’, 3 April 2023. Return to text
  14. House of Commons, ‘Written question: Pesticides (180551)’, 24 April 2023. Return to text
  15. House of Lords, ‘Written question: Pesticides (HL9820)’, 15 September 2023. Return to text