There is considerable evidence that acute and chronic exposure to pesticides is harmful to human health, especially to the digestive system, the respiratory system, the endocrine system (due to exposure to atrazine, for example), and the central nervous system (due to exposure to organophosphates). Some pesticides have also been linked to cancer, (carbaryl, for example). Epidemiological studies indicate that developing fetuses, infants, and children are particularly sensitive to pesticides.
Four government entities approve pesticides in Israel, in accordance with their intended use: agricultural use in plants (Plant Protection Services, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development – MoAg); veterinary use (Veterinary Services, MoAg); sanitation (Ministry of Environmental Protection – MoEP); and use in contact with the human body (Ministry of Health - MoH). In each of these entities, there is an inter-ministerial advisory committee including representatives of the MoH, MoEP, MoAg and the Ministry of Economy (MoE).
The inter-ministerial committee that approves pesticides for agricultural use also includes a representative of the public. The role of these committees is to assess the safety of proposed pesticides from the perspective of human health and the environment, and to recommend uses and restrictions or to prohibit use. The Director of Occupational Safety and Health at the MoE is responsible for occupational safety related to pesticide manufacture and use.
Agricultural and Veterinary Use
Two key regulations address the import and sale of pesticide formulations for use in plant protection (1994) and veterinary use (1982, currently under revision). Additional regulations require that pesticide applicators act in accordance with all restrictions and guidelines appearing on officially approved pesticide labels.
Additional regulations under the authority of the MoEP and the MoAg from 1979 address the minimal distance from homes and roads that must be observed during aerial pesticide applications. Regulations from 2005 address the minimal distance from homes and roads that must be observed during ground pesticide applications. Both regulations are currently under revision.
Table 1: Phased Out or Restricted Pesticides in Plant Protection, 2012-2014
In May 2003, in order to promote sustainable development, the government directed the MoAg to reduce use of pesticides and to develop targets and indices for assessing the effectiveness of this effort. In May 2010, the MoAg published a strategic plan for sustainable agriculture which includes a policy for reducing the number of approved pesticides and the amounts of applied pesticides. Promotion of methods like biological pest control and integrated pest management are expected to reduce pesticide use. In addition, a number of pesticides have been phased out in recent years (Table 1) and this trend is expected to continue.
Table 1 lists the active ingredients that have been prohibited or limited to critical uses in recent years. Carbamate pesticides were re-evaluated in 2014 and 3 additional active ingredients will be phased out (carbaryl, benfuracarb, and carbosulfan).
Permitted pesticide residue levels are established in three regulations and/or ordinances.
- Regulations on permitted pesticide residues (1991) are under the joint responsibility of the MoH and the MoAg. In 2011, the Supervision of Plant Production and Marketing Law came into effect (under the purview of the MoAg). Efforts are currently underway to implement regulations that will facilitate tracing pesticide residues in food back to the grower.
- Regulations from 1971 (under the purview of the MoAg) which address the issue of animal feed are expected to be replaced in 2014 by new legislation which will regulate permitted levels of pesticides in animal feed, and will require tracing the path of food to the animal and from the animal to human beings.
- Regulations from 2000 address permitted pesticide levels in animal-based food. These regulations are under the authority of the MoAg. The permitted residue levels are determined in cooperation with the National Food Service (MoH).
Regulations from 1994 that are based on the Hazardous Materials Law address the issue of pesticide formulations for sanitation use. Regulations from 1975 address pesticide applicators. New legislation on pesticide applicators was submitted to the Knesset in 2014. The Pest and Pest Control Division at the MoEP is responsible for ensuring that only licensed pesticide applicators engage in sanitation pest control, that they use only permitted substances, and that these substances be applied in accordance with the products' labeled instructions.
In 2007, the MoEP prohibited household use of pesticides that contain organophosphates, chlorpyriphos and diazinon. Two years later, the MoAg expanded the restriction on chlorpyriphos and diazinon to prohibit use in public and private gardens, parks, and in certain veterinary applications.
Substances in Contact with the Human Body
Only one percent of pesticide formulations registered in Israel are for medical purposes (for example, lice treatment). The Pharmacy Department at the MoH is responsible for overseeing chemical preparations for the control of pests harmful to human beings. Their authority is based on an ordinance from 1962.
Data on Pesticide Use and Exposure
The MoAg is responsible for sampling pesticide residues in food during the growing and packaging stage, while the MoH is responsible for sampling the produce during the sales and marketing stage. Ordinarily there is no overlap between the sampling performed by the two ministries who do coordinate their efforts. Any irregular result found in the market is passed on to the MoAg for further investigation.
The National Food Service at the MoH samples 800 to 1,000 items annually in accordance with its annual plan. The Plant Protection and Inspection Services has an annual program for field sampling and inspection of agricultural produce intended for the local market, with about 700 tests conducted each year. The Veterinary Services publish an annual report, which is available online, on residues found in animal products.
A risk assessment published by the National Food Service in 2013 summarizes data on exposure to pesticide residues in food from 2006 to 2010, as sampled by the MoAg and MoH. Over 5,500 samples were tested in over 100 different food products. In 625 samples, which comprise 11.2% of all samples, pesticide residues were found in excess of the maximum permitted residue level. It is important to note that the risk assessment uses theoretical calculations of the adult Israeli diet based on market data.
In 2011–2012, the MoH tested over 1,300 food samples; pesticide residues in excess of the maximum permitted residue level were found in 13.5% of the samples. The findings are available on the National Food Service website. In 2011–2012, the MoAg Plant Protection Services tested about 1,500 plant samples; pesticide residues in excess of the maximum permitted residue level were found in about 6% of the samples.
In the Veterinary Services (MoAg) annual survey of pesticide residues in animal products in 2011-2012, 14 types of products from eight different types of animals were tested. More than 2,000 samples were tested for pesticide residues; no excess level of pesticide residues was found in any of the samples.
Data on Registered Pesticide Formulations
An estimated 72% of all pest control formulations in Israel are used in plant agriculture and about 13% are for veterinary use (primarily for farm animals, but also for pets). As of the second half of 2014, there are 386 active ingredients permitted for use in agricultural pest control in Israel. In Europe by comparison, there are 449 active ingredients used as agricultural pesticides. No maximum permitted residue level has been defined for 130 of the active ingredients registered in Israel – either because the method of using them ensures that no residue will be found in the produce or because no level of residue in the produce is permitted. In 2010, maximum permitted residue levels were defined for 269 active pesticide substances as well as six additional substances that were used in the past and are still defined as environmental pollutants.
Approximately 14% of all pesticides in Israel are used for sanitation purposes. As of 2013, only 13 active ingredients were categorized as pesticides for medical purposes, including eight active ingredients for repelling mosquitoes and five active ingredients for treating lice.
Data on the Scope of Use and Exposure to Pest Control Substances
Israel is the record-holder among selected Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in the use of pesticides. According to data from the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, 3.2 tons of active ingredients were used in Israel in 2010 per 1,000 dunams of agricultural land (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Tons of Active Pest Control Substance Per 1,000 Dunams of Agricultural Land for Selected Countries
From 2008 to 2010, 6,600–7,300 tons of active pesticide substances were sold in Israel. During this period, there were only slight fluctuations in the amount of organophosphate pesticides sold. During 2008–2010, there was an increase of 8% in sales of active pesticide substances for sanitation.
The sale of pesticides for veterinary use rose from 11 tons in 2008 to 20 tons in 2010, an increase of more than 80%. Most of this increase is attributed to the use of veterinary pesticides for pets and for the poultry sector.
Data on Geographic Proximity of the Population to Agricultural Areas
In 2013, the extent of cultivated agricultural land in Israel was 4.2 million dunams (including buildings and farm roads), which comprises 19% of the total area of the country. A significant part of the cultivated land is near settled areas, with 13% in urban localities. Figure 2 indicates the proximity of population centers to agricultural land where pesticides are used.
Figure 2: Agricultural Land Use in Israel
Biological Monitoring of Organophosphate Metabolites
A survey conducted by the MoH and published in 2013 measured exposure of the adult population in Israel to organophosphate pesticides, which have been linked to a range of negative effects on human health. Six organophosphates metabolites (dialkylphosphates) were measured in urine samples. Dialkylphosphates were detected in each of the samples, with increased concentrations among individuals who reported higher consumption of fruits. The study found that exposure of the general population in Israel to organophosphates is higher than that of the general population in either the US or Canada. For more information on the results of this survey, see the Chapter on Biomonitoring.
Data on Pesticide Poisoning
The Beterem organization published a report on childhood pesticide poisoning in the period from 2008 to 2013. The data indicate that nearly 75% of the affected children were four years old or younger. Most of the cases occurred among Arab children, particularly Bedouins. The data indicate that most of the incidents occurred at home or adjacent to the home. According to data from the Israel Poison Information Center at Rambam Hospital there were over 550 cases of pesticide poisoning in 2013.
Research on Health Effects of Pesticides in Israel
- Researchers from the Hebrew University Center of Excellence in Agriculture and Environmental Health in collaboration with the National Food Service at the MoH are studying childhood exposure to pesticides in Israel. The study found that exposure of children ages four to seven is high compared to that of adults.
- Researchers from the Hebrew University Center of Excellence in Agriculture and Environmental Health are studying the impact of organophosphate pesticides on the endocrine system and on fetal development.
- Researchers from the Hebrew University Center of Excellence in Agriculture and Environmental Health are studying the levels of organophosphate metabolites in agricultural products with the aim of determining the sources of organophosphate metabolites found in urine samples from the general population.
- Researchers from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Shaare Zedek Medical Center are studying the long-term health effects of environmental exposure to pesticides in children and adults in kibbutzim, such as the impact on the peripheral nervous system and on cognition.
- In 2015, the MoH plans to measure organophosphate metabolites in urine from a representative sample of adults and children in order to determine whether policy to reduce agricultural use of organophosphates has been effective in reducing public exposure.
Progress and Challenges
- Between 2012 and 2014, the MoAg phased out 18 active ingredients and limited the use of 10 additional active ingredients of organophosphate, triazine, carbamate and organochlorine pesticides.
- In early 2014, the MoEP submitted new legislation to the Knesset addressing training and licensing of pesticide applicators. In addition, the MoEP is currently updating regulations that limit aerial and ground application of pesticides near residences. Enactment of this legislation and the institution of new regulations is expected to improve the regulatory framework for pesticide use in Israel.
- There are four inter-ministerial committees responsible for providing recommendations on pesticide registration. The State Comptroller, in his annual report, noted in 2002 and 2011 that consideration should be given to merging these committees in order to ensure uniform criteria for pesticide registration. As of 2014, unification of the committees has not been implemented.
- Because of concerns regarding potential negative health effects, the inter-ministerial committees are developing a list of permitted co-formulants in pesticide formulations.
- There are major challenges in enforcement of proper pesticide use in Israel. The State Comptroller’s Report from 2011 addresses this issue at length, including the challenges involved in supervising the sale and use of agricultural pesticides in residential settings. Illegal use of an agricultural pesticide (phosphine) in a residential building in Jerusalem in 2014 led to the death of two children and the injury of two additional children from the same family.
- There is a need for data and monitoring regarding public exposure to pesticides. Such monitoring is needed in areas where there is geographic proximity between the treated agricultural areas and population centers, with an emphasis on sensitive populations (kindergartens, schools, etc.). The MoH will monitor the impact of policy to reduce public exposure to organophosphate pesticides by continuing to test for pesticide residues in agricultural produce and by using biomonitoring.
- Today, there is no database in Israel on poisoning from pesticides. At the Israel Poison Information Center at Rambam Hospital, data are collected on calls to the Center regarding poisoning. These data do not fully reflect the scope of pesticide poisoning due to incomplete reporting.
This chapter and all other chapters in the report was written by a team of scientists and professionals from the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with Environment and Health Fund.
(1) Berman T., Goldsmith R., Göen T., Spungen J., Novack L., Levine H., Amitai Y., Shohat T., Grotto I. (2013). Urinary concentrations of organophosphate pesticide metabolites in adults in Israel: Demographic and dietary predictors. Environment International, 60, 183-189.
(2) Central Bureau of Statistics (2013). Pesticides in Israel 2008-2010.
http://www.cbs.gov.il/publications13/pesticides2010_1497/pdf/e_print.pdf (retrieved July 2014).
(3) The Hebrew University Center of Excellence in Agriculture and Environmental Health (2012). Exposure of Israeli children to pesticides via food consumption.
http://www.environmental-health.huji.ac.il/exposure-children.html (retrieved July 2014).
(4) Israel Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (2013). National plan for agriculture and rural areas in Israel, policy planning document – Report No. 1: Characterizing, mapping and outlining trends (Hebrew).
http://www.moag.gov.il/agri/files/rep_1_idkun30102013.PDF (retrieved July 2014).
(5) Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection (1994). Hazardous substances regulations (registration of preparations for the control of pests harmful to humans), 5754-1994.
http://www.sviva.gov.il/English/Legislation/Documents/Hazardous%20Substances%20Laws%20and%20Regulations/HazardousSubstancesRegulations-RegistrationOfPreparationsForControlOfHarmfulPests-1994.pdf (retrieved July 2014).
(6) Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection (Feb 2014), List of pesticide preparations registered for sanitation needs (Hebrew).
http://www.sviva.gov.il/subjectsEnv/PestControl/extermination/Documents/PecticidesList2201Public.pdf (retrieved July 2014).
(7) The Knesset Research and Information Center (2010). Report on the use of pesticides in agriculture (Hebrew).
http://www.knesset.gov.il/mmm/data/pdf/m02510.pdf (retrieved July 2014).
(8) National Food Service, Israel Ministry of Health. Pesticides residues in food (Hebrew).
http://www.health.gov.il/UnitsOffice/HD/PH/FCS/contaminants/Pages/pesticides.aspx (retrieved July 2014).
(9) Plant Protection and Inspection Services, Israel Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (1999). Pesticides Data Bank.
http://www.hadbara.moag.gov.il/hadbara/english/ (retrieved July 2014).
(10) Plant Protection and Inspection Services, Israel Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (2014). Notice to public: Interministerial committee revising carbamate pesticide formulations (Hebrew).
http://www.ppis.moag.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/21A1DBB8-A58E-48B0-91C7-5C7349150F1B/0/hodaa_rivizia.pdf (retrieved July 2014).
(11) The State Comptroller and Ombudsman Israel (2012). Annual Report No. 62 for 2011, Chapter two: Ministry of environmental protection - environmental protection in the agricultural space (pages 467-499) (Hebrew).