Illegal Pesticides

1. What you need to know – the basics


Increasing quantities of fake pesticides are being produced, marketed and sold by criminals around the world. The main-streaming of technology and legislative loopholes facilitate the trade of counterfeit and illegal products. This is serious organised crime. 


Fake pesticides are a danger to your health, your pocket, and the environment. Keep your eyes open, make sure you buy from reputable suppliers, and always check the packaging, label, and product. Find out how you can report illegal pesticides. 

2. What are counterfeit and illegal pesticides?

Counterfeit pesticides are fake products often produced and packaged to look like the genuine article. The widespread availability of technology needed to produce counterfeit and illegal pesticides, coupled with the lack of enforcement of existing laws and legislative loopholes all contribute to facilitate the trade of counterfeit products.

Counterfeit pesticides:

  • Might contain chemicals that are either banned or restricted in the EU due to the potential risks they may pose to human health and/or the environment.
  • Are not authorised for sale by competent pesticide authorities.
  • Can lead to a total loss of treated crops, compromising farmer livelihood.
  • Contain untested products and undeclared active substances that may result in unacceptable residue levels, making the products unmarketable

Falsely declared products regularly ignore the international labelling requirements designed to ensure safety during transport. Thus, highly toxic, flammable or otherwise hazardous substances are transported without regard for the safety of people or the environment.

Counterfeit and illegal pesticides damage the reputation of legitimate stakeholders and challenge sustainable agriculture. Additionally, the production, trade and use of counterfeit and illegal pesticides circumvents EU regulations and deprives Member States of revenue and tax.

As part of CLE’s fight against the production of counterfeit and illegal pesticides, CLE continues to work to raise awareness of the issues of counterfeit and illegal pesticides in the EU. CLE strives to uphold stringent EU safety standards designed to safeguard the health and safety of farmers, consumers and the environment.

The content of counterfeit and illegal pesticides are unknown and have not been evaluated under EU regulatory processes for pesticides; the use of counterfeit and illegal pesticides can pose very real risks to farmers, the environment and the health of crops.

Countries that fail to manage this problem put their agricultural economy and trade and export reputation at risk.

In Europe, counterfeit and illegal pesticides fall in to two main categories, with an additional illegal product sub-category only applying to products within the EU:

  • Counterfeits: Sophisticated looking packaging and labelling copies, which appear identical to original legitimate products. The contents of the container may contain a variety of active ingredients of varying quality.
  • Illegal products: Products that make no attempt to copy an authentic product. They have a basic or incomplete labels. These products may or may not contain the ingredients named on the label of the container and their quality may represent a danger to human health and the environment.
    • Illegal parallel trade: This category is only applicable within the EU. These products masquerade as originals that have been purchased in one EU country and are moved to another to permit legitimate competition. Criminals involved in illegal parallel trade organise production and transport of non-original chemicals (pesticides that have never been registered for use in the EU) and import them into the EU; these pesticides are placed in new containers as an illegal substitute by unscrupulous parallel traders and sold to farmers as if they were original manufacturer production. The DG Santé report concluded “There is considerable evidence to suggest that the parallel trade system is misused in order to both move illegal PPPs around the EU and to bring them to market; this is possible due to the absence of requirements to link the marketed parallel-traded product to the reference product batch at the time of sale.”

      Legitimate parallel trade permits price equalization across EU countries by moving authentic products from a lower price country to a country where prices are higher.

      For additional information (link to DG Santé report on illegal pesticides): click

3. How does the dangerous trade in counterfeit and illegal pesticides work?

Counterfeit and illegal pesticides can enter the European Union through various routes:

  • Under cover
  • Abusing parallel import licenses
  • Smuggled across the EU external frontier, ready-packed and labelled
  • Imported as ready packed and labelled products, counterfeiting the proprietary brands
    and using falsified transport documents
  • Imported as bulk formulated product with false declaration, to be packed and labelled within the EU
  • Imported as active ingredient to be formulated, packed and labelled within the EU

4. How are counterfeit and illegal products marketed?

  • With sophisticated falsified proprietary brand labels and packaging materials.
  • With label in non-local language
  • With inappropriate packaging material with no or rudimentary labelling
  • With no invoice, sold by non-authorised dealers

5. What are the potential risks associated with counterfeit and illegal products?

  • There are risks to the safety product handlers, farmers, consumers and the environment.
  • Counterfeit and illegal products are neither tested nor evaluated; they are not subjected to the EU regulatory process for pesticides.
  • Counterfeit and illegal pesticide products often contain chemicals which are either banned or restricted due to the risk they pose to human health and/or the environment.
  • Undeclared active ingredients in counterfeit and illegal products can leave unacceptable residues on produce, rendering goods unfit for market. 
  • As the content of counterfeit and illegal products is unknown, their use can pose a high-risk to farmers, the environment and crops.
  • Falsely declared, counterfeit and illegal products regularly ignore the international labelling requirements designed to ensure safety during transport. Thus, highly toxic, flammable or otherwise hazardous substances are transported regardless of the safety of the staff handling the product, bystanders and the environment.
  • As part of organised criminal networks, the production of counterfeit and illegal pesticides is not required to comply with industry standards, presenting risk to human health and the environment.

6. Consequences for farmers and other members of society

  • Counterfeit and illegal pesticides can pose severe health risks to the farmers who handle and use them. Unknown ingredients can damage or fully destroy the treated crop, thus compromising farmer livelihood.
  • Unknown residues make food unfit for market and result in economic losses across the food chain.
  • Counterfeit and illegal pesticides pose risk to water and soil quality and the health of biodiversity.
  • Production, trade and use of counterfeit and illegal pesticides circumvents EU regulations and deprives Member States of taxes and revenues.
  • The use of counterfeit and illegal pesticides damages the reputation of farmers and industry and poses a threat to sustainable agriculture.

7. Fixing the problem: Closing legislative loopholes

The import and entry (to the EU) of unapproved pesticides is illegal, but loopholes in several pieces of legislation make it easy for criminals to route their products to European farmers. In recent years enforcement authorities around Europe have stopped large quantities of counterfeit or illegal pesticides. But much more needs to be done.

Ways of fixing this problem include:

  • Minimising the entry of counterfeit and illegal pesticides through improved cooperation between customs, phytosanitary and police authorities.
  • Empowering customs officials to stop products in transit, based on false and incomplete documentation or strong suspicion of potential for illegal placement on the EU market, and allowing the time required for the products to be tested. 

8. Fixing the problem: Ensuring a safe pesticides market

Counterfeit and illegal pesticides continue to threaten EU health & safety and sustainable agriculture despite the good work of customs officials and inspection services. Therefore, an effective monitoring and control of the market is essential.

CLE strongly encourages farmers to know their supplier and avoid buying products from unknown sources. Counterfeit and illegal pesticides have no guaranteed effectiveness and come with high risk.

If you believe you have received a counterfeit plant protection product, it is important to contact the relevant authorities.

9. Did you know?

  • Pesticides, like all high value and branded products, are targeted by counterfeiters.
  • Being one of the many essential tools in the farmer’s toolbox for pest management, the development of a new pesticide typically requires ten years of research and testing and hundreds of millions of Euros of investment – covering a rigorous process of research and development and product authorisation.
  • Pesticides are one of the most regulated products in Europe and can only be traded and used in the EU if they are considered safe when used according to instruction. Counterfeit pesticides are untested and unauthorised.
  • Counterfeit products are part of a wide variety of illegal products. Counterfeit means that a product is deliberately and fraudulently copied with respect to identity, source and/or composition. Additionally, violation of tax law can render a product illegal.
  • The sale and placing on the market (via import) of illegal pesticides is a criminal act and includes infringements of intellectual property rights such as trademarks, patents and copyrights.
  • The global trade in counterfeit and illegal pesticides is growing, presenting increased risk to human health, the environment and the economy.
  • Pesticides have become a lucrative business for criminals: a 2015 European Commission report states that on average illegal pesticides represent approximately 10% of the EU28 pesticide market – but this might be a considerable underestimation of the extent of the problem.
  • If illegal pesticide producers were a single company they would be the 4th largest company in value in the world.

10. Anti-Counterfeiting: Third Party Publications


  1. EU:  Ad-hoc study on the trade of illegal and counterfeit pesticides in the EU, (executive summary)
    European Commission, DG Health & Food Safety
  2. EU:  The Economic Cost of IPR Infringement in the Pesticides Sector
    European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO)
  3. Ukraine:  Counteraction to Counterfeit and Contraband Pesticides, Methodology
    Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) within the Environmental and Security Initiative (ENVSEC)


  1. Global:  Illicit Pesticides, Organized Crime and Supply Chain Integrity
    United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI)
  2. Global:  Report of the OECD Seminar on Risk Reduction Through Prevention, Detection and Control of the Illegal International Trade in Agricultural Pesticides
    Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
  3. Global: Roles and Responsibilities of Intermediaries, Fighting Counterfeiting and Piracy in the Supply Chain
    International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCAP), pages 26, 32, 39 -41
  4. Global: The Roles and Responsibilities of Ocean-going Transportation Intermediaries in the Distribution of Counterfeit Goods
    School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University
  5. Global: US Government Joint Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement (FY2017 – 2019)
    The Office of the IPR Enforcement Coordinator, Executive Office of the President, pages 38, 111 – 113
  6. Global: Declaration of Intent to prevent the maritime transportation of counterfeit goods
    International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), BASCAP (Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy), brand owners, and maritime transport industry