Plant protection plant health care IFOAM Organics Europe

Plant protection

Plant protection tools and strategies working with biodiversity

Plant protection in organic farming is mainly based on the ecosystem services provided by well-maintained and functional biodiversity. Preventive measures are essential for the organic production systems which aim to be as little dependent on external inputs as possible. As a last resort, organic farmers can use plant protection products but only if they are natural substances. Since the use of synthetic pesticides is prohibited, organic agriculture prevents the introduction of new and alien substances into ecosystems.



Amélie Steu
Policy Coordinator on the CAP, Pesticides and Animal Welfare

Organic farming’s unique approach to plant protection reduces pesticide input by 97% compared to conventional systems [Mäder et al. (2002): Soil Fertility and Biodiversity in Organic Farming. Science 296, 1694]. This makes it one of the main levers to reduce EU agriculture’s dependency on synthetic pesticides. The EU’s high pesticide use is problematic because pesticides pollute our soil, water and air, and leave residues on our food. This combination of factors can be detrimental for human health, biodiversity and the environment.

Besides their negative effects on people and planet’s health and biodiversity, synthetic pesticides also negatively affect organic farmers:

  • The biodiversity loss pesticides cause hampers the ecosystem services organic’s approach to plant health relies on; and
  • The more pesticides are used, the higher the risk of pesticide residues contamination of organic products.

Concerns over synthetic pesticides have been growing among citizens and policymakers. In its Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, the European Commission sets ambitious targets to reduce:

  • The overall use and risk of chemical pesticides by 50% by 2030, and
  • The use of more hazardous pesticides by 50% by 2030.

Organic farming is part of the solution to reach these targets as it ensures the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet, by creating resilient agricultural systems – significantly lower in use of and dependence on off-farm inputs. To achieve this, organic farming:

  • Protects and enhances biodiversity within the production area, and
  • Manages plant protection through preventive and indirect measures internal to the agroecosystem.

Where these measures are not sufficient to prevent the development of pests and/or diseases, farmers and growers can use plant protection products but only if they consist of “natural or naturally-derived substances”. Herbicides-use is completely prohibited. The few products used aim to be specific enough to reduce infestations without compromising the system’s resilience.

IFOAM Organics Europe…

  • Supports the future development of organic plant health care in EU regulation and policy;
  • Supports the reform of the Sustainable Use of Plant Protection Products Regulation (SUR) to ensure the EU’s 50% pesticide use and risk reduction targets are met by 2030. We also propose recommendations to improve the Commission’s proposal published on 22 June 2022;
  • Participates in the European Commission Directorate General on Health and Food Safety’s (DG SANTE) advisory group on food chain and animal and plant health;
  • Participates in the EFSA “stakeholders’ engagement” process, including the annual EFSA’s Roundtable with NGOs;
  • Collected messages, arguments, and visuals on organic’s approach to plant health for its members (you need to be a member to access these, contact for access rights and information about membership);
  • Was part of the RELACS project that developed and facilitated tools and technologies to phase out dependency on and use of inputs considered contentious in organic farming systems;
  • Started the project Developing Organic: Pesticide use and contamination to agree on a common approach of the organic sector on how to deal with findings of pesticide residues, before the Commission issues its report on national rules on residue findings, and a possible proposal on harmonisation.
Legal framework

Ongoing processes

Legislative background

  • EU Regulation 2018/848 on organic production and labelling of organic products: This new EU Organic Regulation, replacing the EU regulation 834/2007, is implemented as of 1 January 2022. It covers rules for organic plant production and plant protection products. The 57 natural substances authorized in organic farming are listed in the Annex;
  • EU regulation 1107/2009 on the placing of plant protection products on the market: Lays down rules for the authorisation of plant protection products in commercial form and for their placing on the market, use and control, and for the approval of active substances;
  • EU regulation 834/2007 and EU regulation 889/2008 on organic production and labelling of organic products: Stipulates rules of organic plant production and plant protection products;
  • EU Regulation 396/2005 stipulates maximum residue levels in or on food and feed of plant and animal origin.
Our position

IFOAM Organics Europe believes that many aspects of organic plant health care are not adequately addressed in the current EU policy and regulatory framework. Immediate and long-term actions in EU regulation and policy must include:

  • Registration processes in horizontal legislation further adapted to naturally-occurring substances, reflecting their special importance for plant health care in organic farming;
  • A fast-track procedure for inclusion of registered substances in line with the organic principles and necessary for organic plant health;
  • Prioritisation of organic farming in National Action Plans implemented under the Sustainable Pesticide Use Directive;
  • Prioritisation of research and knowledge transfer for organic plant health to support greater agroecosystem resilience;
  • Introduction of a green valued add tax (VAT) on pesticides and synthetic fertilisers with revenues used to fund applied research development on organic and agro-ecological approaches.

Read our position paper Plant Health Care in Organic Farming for more details.

Projects IFOAM Organics Europe is involved in

RELACS – Alternatives for inputs in organic farming

The ‘Replacement of Contentious Inputs in Organic Farming Systems’ (RELACS) project looked into safe tools and technologies to phase out inputs considered contentious in organic farming. Two of the project’s work packages look into alternatives for copper and mineral oil.

RELACS has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 773431. The information contained in this communication only reflects the author’s view.

Developing Organic: Pesticide use and contamination

‘Developing Organic’ is the term we use for our work on specific issues important for the sector. Our first and ongoing Developing Organic project is called “Pesticide use and contamination: Ensuring a favourable environment for organic operators through EU legislative frameworks”. After a call to interested parties to join and support the initiative, the project officially started in November 2020. Its main objective is to agree on a common approach of the organic sector on how to deal with findings of pesticide residues to develop a fair and harmonised legislative framework for organic farmers, processors, traders, certifiers in the EU and beyond. The organic sector wants to be proactive on this key issue, as the European Commission will present a report assessing the national rules applicable in case of residue findings by 31 December 2024. This might be accompanied by a legislative proposal for further harmonisation in all Member States and Third Countries. The project is made possible by 17 sponsors and 1 supporter: find out who they are and why they decided to take part!

Practical examples

Organic fruit growers often suffer economic losses due to insect damages. Functional agrobiodiversity (FAB) can reduce pest damage and pesticide use in organic apple orchards. One exemplary measure is the use of flower strips, an easy, attractive, fast technique to improve functional biodiversity in cropping systems by maintaining beneficial insects in the crop. The EcoOrchard project (2014-2018) has been launched to improve our understanding of flower strips behaviour in European orchards, and their effect on apple pests. Read more about this initiative on

Organic farm ‘Mrowisko’ specialises in organic vegetable production. The farm does not keep animals, but produces compost, vegetable broth and plant extracts. The effects are achieved mainly by properly constructed crop rotation, composting, organic fertilizers allowed by Fertilizer Institute in Puławy and manure purchased at organic farms. Proper composition of neighbouring plants protects the cultivation from pest and diseases. For more information, visit

I accept I do not accept