Secret pesticide ingredients ‘may pose risk to people, pollinators and environment’

Irish scientist argues that farmers and consumers entitled to know what is being sprayed on their food

Greater transparency in detailing the full ingredients of pesticides is in the best interest of farmers and consumers who deserve to know exactly what is in the products given their widespread use and associated risks to health, according to a Trinity College Dublin researcher.

Secret ingredients could be posing risks to people, pollinators and the environment, argues Dr Edward Straw of Trinity’s botany department in a research paper published with others in Environmental Science and Policy on Wednesday.

“Farmers applying the pesticides have a right to know what it is they are spraying, and consumers have a right to know what is being sprayed on their food,” he said.

“Pesticides are widely used in Ireland and can potentially have serious impacts on both wildlife and human health. Yet despite this, the full list of ingredients in a pesticide is kept secret. Without full transparency, research into the negative effects of these ingredients cannot happen.”


Pesticides contain main ingredients and co-formulants, which help the main ingredient function. Pesticide producers are required to report what the main ingredients in a pesticide are, as well as some co-formulants that meet specific criteria set out by the EU.

“However, many co-formulants are kept secret and are actually explicitly protected by EU law as trade secrets. Because of this, neither pesticide users nor scientists really know what is in them,” said Dr Straw, the report’s lead author.

“It often takes research from independent scientists to alert the EU to the threat certain pesticides can present. But if we do not know what the ingredients in a pesticide are, we cannot test those ingredients.”

He argues there is “no good reason” for keeping these ingredients secret and that this lack of transparency is putting the farmers who use the pesticides and the people who eat the food made using them at risk.

“Recent research has found some co-formulants in pesticides can be harmful to wildlife, like bees, as well as quite harmful to human health,” he says. “With full transparency scientists could test pesticides better, identify any harmful co-formulants, and help make pesticides safer for nature and their users.”

In industries similar to pesticide production, such as drug production, there is not the same secrecy applied to these types of ingredients, while medicine packets openly list all ingredients, he said.

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Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times