Pitchcare's Alice Northrop continues her investigations into just who is responsible for the policing of professional pesticides. Spurred on by the responses from the industry to the original article, she has, once again, been met with a load of hot air. It has taken her close to nine months to get, well, nowhere. It is all rather depressing!
In my first article, I walked you all through the rigmarole of when I tried to report the mis-selling of professional pesticide products (PPPs) as domestic products on an online store. The toing and froing between the different authorities and bodies that we always assumed would police the mis-use of pesticides was quite something to behold, and the response we have had from the industry so far has shown we are not alone in our dismay.
Having had such a response from those working in the industry, both through social media and more traditional methods of communication, I set about contacting the authorities mentioned in my previous article, interested in what their thoughts were on the issues highlighted. Having had yet another disappointing response, I thought it would be beneficial to shed light on each organisation's remit, and try, yet again, to work out who is ultimately responsible for enforcement.
"BASIS is an independent standards setting and auditing organisation for the pesticide, fertiliser and allied industries."
In practice, the website tells us this means:
- They offer a range of examinations and recognised qualifications for people working in the pesticide, fertiliser and related sectors
- They operate an annual inspection scheme to audit pesticide storage and ensure their operation presents minimal risk to people and the environment
- They manage the Professional Registers for qualified pesticide and fertiliser advisers and for public health pest control professionals.
- They operate the BASIS Advanced Contractor Certification Scheme (BACCS) and the new Amenity Assured standard to raise and maintain good practice standards in the amenity and industrial pesticide sectors
But perhaps even more pertinent for this issue, and why we contacted them in the first place:
- Provides a forum for industry trade associations and other stakeholders to discuss how professional standards can be maintained, improved and promoted
- They work closely with industry, the regulatory authorities and government to promote and develop professional standards
Response to our original enquiry: "Thank you for bringing it to our attention". BASIS then forwarded the link to the Chemical Regulations Directorate (CRD).
Response to our article: No response as of yet.
CRD - Chemical Regulations Directorate of HSE
"Our primary aim is to ensure the safe use of biocides, industrial chemicals, pesticides and detergents to protect the health of people and the environment within the HSE's and Defra's overall objectives."
In particular, the CRD support HSE's mission: 'the prevention of death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work'. By early intervention in the supply chain, we seek to prevent the adverse effects of chemicals on people and the environment.
"Our major role is to deliver Competent Authority functions within EU legislation regulating chemicals, pesticides, biocides and detergents where HSE is the appointed authority for the UK."
The principal programmes covered are:
- The REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) Regulation
- The Biocidal Products Regulation (BPR); and also ongoing regulatory responsibilities under the UK Control of Pesticides Regulations (COPR)
- Plant Protection Products Directives and Regulations
- Detergents Regulations
- EU Classification, Labelling and Packaging Regulation
Response to our original enquiry: Both BASIS and the Amenity Forum informed us that they would be notifying CRD, but have not made us aware of any response from them. Initially, when trying to find contact details for the CRD, all we could find was the contact form for HSE.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
It is annoyingly frustrating trying to find anything specific with regards to, well, anything on HSE's website, but basically: "HSE are tasked by the Government to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of those in employment and those who may be affected by work activity"
Response to our original enquiry: "Your enquiry does not fall within HSE's enforcement remit, so we are unable to comment on the matters you raise." Told us to contact our local Trading Standards Officer.
Response to Trading Standards from HSE enquiry on the same matter: A much more detailed reply from an officer working at the Compliance Branch of the HSE, stating that the internet seller is not acting illegally: "The legislation covering the advertising and sale of plant protection products is complex."
"Whilst I would agree that it is not entirely clear what is a professional or an amateur product, this is not a breach of the advertising guidelines."
"Sellers are not required to check the actual certificate that the purchaser (or intended user) holds, but they should remind customers of their obligations, by whatever means they feel is appropriate."
Response to the Amenity Forum's enquiry on the same matter: "The team is following up the issues…"
Response to our article: No response as yet.
Trading standards professionals act on behalf of consumers and business. They advise on and enforce laws that govern the way we buy, sell, rent and hire goods and services. Trading standards officers (TSOs) work for local councils advising on consumer law, investigating complaints and, if all else fails, prosecuting traders who break the law.
To get in touch with a Trading Standards Officer, one must first call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline and tell them you want to report a trader to Trading Standards. The consumer helpline will assess your problem and pass it on to Trading Standards if it is appropriate.
Trading Standards will then decide whether to investigate your problem. If they do, they might contact you for more information and evidence. Depending on what they find out, they might take action to stop the trader from acting unfairly. For example, they might educate the trader about the law or take legal action against them to stop them from trading completely.
Response to our original enquiry: The Trading Standards Officer was unclear as to the regulatory controls that apply to the products, and also admitted that he hadn't known that this fell within the Trading Standard's remit. He then sought HSE's advice, so we had already gone full circle there. They eventually got back to him with the above answer.
Response to our article: No response as yet.
The Amenity Forum
"The Amenity Forum is a UK based, industry led body for the promotion of 'best practice' principles within the amenity sector when using pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, algaecides and other products to control pests and diseases in this diverse sector."
- The Amenity Forum is the "voluntary initiative" for the amenity sector:
- To be the collective body representing the amenity sector
- To lead, encourage and coordinate 'Best Practice'
- To coordinate and encourage training and CPD activity
- To organise activities within the Amenity Forum membership
Response to our original enquiry: They acknowledged that this was a growing issue and told us of their intention to discuss this particular matter with CRD.
Response to our article: "As you will be aware, the issues raised in your article have been and continue to be investigated by CRD, the appropriate and proper body to do this."
"The Amenity Forum promotes best practice and provides guidance on internet selling and appropriate practice. It of course does not approve of any form of mis-selling and, if made aware of such, would always advise those bringing the complaint, to refer matters in full to HSE for investigation."
So, in summary, is it the CRD that handles these enquiries?
Are they solely responsible for policing the misuse and mis-selling of pesticides? Great if they are, but why could I not get in contact with them directly? And, if they are, why have we had to go from pillar to post because nobody in the industry seems to know what is within their remit? I have recently heard navigating through the CRD's pages on the HSE website described by a colleague as "wading through treacle".
One thing that strikes me when reading any information on the website is how unintelligible and vague everything is, as if somebody is deliberately trying to be ambiguous.
Also, why have different responses come through from HSE/CRD when contacted by different people on the same issue? They seem to be investigating it when Amenity Forum ask them to, they reply in full to the Trading Standards Officer, but tell us that "Your enquiry does not fall within HSE's enforcement remit, so we are unable to comment on the matters you raise." If they are, indeed, there to reinforce the legislation, a great deal more clarity is needed, and a consistency in their replies would certainly make less of a mockery of the system.
It's not just us that notices the lack of enforcement. I have been contacted by a number of people in a variety of roles in the industry, and it is worrying when you hear some of the stories that get told.
For example, one such conversation drew attention to the fact that a certain golf club was using the herbicide 'Laser' all over their course.
Those of you in the know will know that Laser is used mostly in agriculture, but has an Extension of Authorisation for minor use on golf course rough, but only to be applied in the autumn. When queried on why they were using it all over, the groundsman stated that it was cheaper and "Who's going to know?" Worrying, I am sure you will agree… especially as I am sure the rules for use of this product are there for a reason.
The Crop Protection Association (CPA) has very recently brought up the original article for discussion in one of their regular CPA Amenity Group meetings. Daniel Lightfoot from Syngenta, a member of the CPA, spoke to me about the frustrations of spending so much time and money jumping through hoops with regulatory procedures, when cases of mis-selling and misuse were still happening.
Following the meeting, I spoke to Adam Speed, Communications Manager of the CPA. He told me: "The responsible use of pesticides is our highest priority and, therefore, the industry is rightly concerned at the misuse and mis-selling of pesticides. As an industry group, we are keen to ensure the continued sustainability of pesticides in the UK amenity market. We are an active supporter of the Amenity Forum which promotes the safe and environmentally friendly use of pesticides and provides best practice guidance to distributors and suppliers, both in-store and online, so that pesticides approved for professional use are sold only to users that can demonstrate a high degree of competence, observing the standards laid down in UK Regulations."
He also said, "Incidences of pesticide misuse are policed through a thorough system of enforcement. Responsibility for enforcement is shared between the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities. Incidents are investigated by officers from the relevant government departments or the local authority, depending on the type of incident."
This, again, would be clear and useful if it were the case. Unfortunately, we have yet to witness this in practice. Although with groups such as the CPA Amenity Group "working with key industry partners and the Amenity Forum to ensure the highest standards in the amenity sector, both in terms of the safe and environmentally friendly use of pesticides and in the sale and storage of professional and non-professional products," perhaps this will eventually become the case.
Or will it always be a case of "too many cooks"? As much as it would be a weight off all of our minds to believe that, behind the scenes, there are actually the correct and functioning systems in place to police the mis-selling and misuse of pesticides, the actions of these authorities has not instilled us with much confidence.
It is not just enough to say the legislation and enforcement is there, somebody will have to start acting in order to convince users and sellers of pesticides that, if they misuse or mis-sell these potentially dangerous products, the legislation will be enforced, and not only when a major incident has happened, but to prevent it from happening.
STOP PRESS: As we were going to press we had notification of banned PPP being promoted and sold by a recognised industry company. HSE were immediately notified. There response was "this does not fall within our remit", which is frustrating in the extreme, given the above.
Updates will appear on the Pitchcare website as they become available.