What is an agricultural compound?

Agricultural compounds are substances used in the direct management of plants and animals. Read on for more about how we define these compounds at MPI.

What’s the definition in the ACVM Act? 

Section 2 of the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Act 1997 defines an 'agricultural compound' as:

"any substance, mixture of substances, or biological compound, used or intended for use in the direct management of plants and animals, or to be applied to the land, place, or water on or in which the plants and animals are managed, for the purposes of—

  • managing or eradicating pests, including vertebrate pests; or
  • maintaining, promoting, or regulating plant or animal productivity and performance or reproduction; or
  • fulfilling nutritional requirements; or
  • the manipulation, capture, or immobilisation of animals; or
  • diagnosing the condition of animals; or
  • preventing or treating conditions of animals; or
  • enhancing the effectiveness of an agricultural compound used for the treatment of plants and animals; or
  • marking animals; and includes—
  • any veterinary medicine, substance, mixture of substances, or biological compound used for post-harvest treatment of raw primary produce; and
  • anything used or intended to be used as feed for animals; and
  • any substance, mixture of substances, or biological compound declared to be an agricultural compound for the purposes of this Act by Order in Council".

Which compounds are agricultural compounds?

The term 'agricultural compound' covers the following classes of products:

  • veterinary medicines (including those used on companion animals)
  • agricultural chemicals (including herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, plant growth regulators, surfactants, and adjuvants)
  • vertebrate toxic agents (products that kill or limit the viability of animals such as possums, rodents, and other unwanted mammals)
  • fertilisers and soil conditioners
  • pet food, animal feeds (including dietary supplements).

The following items may also be considered agricultural compounds, depending on where and how they’re used:

Cleansers, disinfectants, sanitisers, and water conditioners.

These are considered agricultural compounds if they are used to maintain hygienic conditions for animals or plants (for example, a product used to control bovine disease organisms in a dairy shed).

Products used to clean industrial equipment and marine antifouling paints used in aquaculture.

These are considered agricultural compounds if (1) they are used on equipment installed where animals or plants are being managed and if (2) the purpose they’re being used for is one of those listed in the official definition. 

Substances that can be said to have the common characteristics of objects.

Things like absorbable suture material or micro-chips can be considered agricultural compounds if they have a non-removable chemical embedded in them. 

Materials with the potential to be used as agricultural compounds.

These are considered agricultural compounds if (1) they need no further manufacture, formulation, or modification before being used and if (2) the stated purpose or use of the product is relevant to the ACVM Act definition of an agricultural compound. 

Here’s an example of this distinction. If you bought a bag labelled 'zinc sulphate' without any accompanying stated purpose, it would not be an agricultural compound at the point of sale. But if the same bag had a label stating that it was "for use on farm animals for the treatment of footrot", it would then be considered an agricultural compound. 

What’s not an agricultural compound?

The following classes of compounds are not considered to fit the definition of 'agricultural compound':

• products used for purposes that are not listed in the ACVM Act

• public health insecticides

• household fly sprays

• industrial herbicides used solely in areas where plants and animals are not being managed (for example, at a commercial industrial site to control weeds and maintain asphalt surfaces).

It’s all about the purpose 

To be considered an agricultural compound, a compound must be used (or expressly intended to be used) to manage plants and animals in a way that fits the ACVM Act definition. 

For example, if you use a compound to control mosquitoes and prevent the spread of an animal disease, that makes it an agricultural compound. The same compound is not considered an agricultural compound if you use it to prevent the spread of a human disease. That’s because this purpose is excluded under the ACVM Act.

Products that modify animals or plants, even if only to provide some benefit to people, are considered agricultural compounds. This is because the animals or plants are being managed for a productivity purpose (one of the purposes listed in the definition of an agricultural compound). 

One example is products designed to produce components for human pharmaceuticals from cow’s milk. In this case, the components are as much primary produce as the milk itself. 

Certain public health and household invertebrate pest control products claim to control organisms to benefit humans. These products are not considered agricultural compounds.  

Clarifying purposes 

It may help to clarify some of the purposes set out in the ACVM Act definition. 

Managing or eradicating pests

Section 2 of the ACVM Act defines a pest as a living organism that can reproduce itself and that may affect plants, animals, or raw primary produce. The definition excludes humans or any organism that affects only humans. The outcome of pest management must relate to the management of animals or plants. 

An organism may be a pest in one context, but in another context, it may be a plant or animal being managed. To be a pest, the organism must have the status of being unwanted or undesirable. This status can be determined by Order in Council, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Pest management includes managing the hygiene of the environment in which animals and plants are managed. Cleansers, disinfectants, and sanitisers are therefore considered agricultural compounds when used for this purpose.

Making agricultural compounds more effective

Some compounds by themselves don’t serve a specific plant or animal management purpose. But, when used in combination with an agricultural compound, they help it to work more effectively. 

Because these substances modify the impact of agricultural compounds, they are themselves considered agricultural compounds. Some examples are pH buffers, surfactants, stickers, and emulsifiers.

Diagnosing the condition of animals

We need to avoid confusion about what 'condition' means. In this context, condition doesn’t refer to assessing an animal’s general health. It specifically refers to an abnormality in an animal, such as a disease. 

How do ACVM Act terms affect the scope of 'agricultural compound'?


MPI considers that all organisms in the animal kingdom are animals, except humans. This includes invertebrates and vertebrates but not viruses or single-celled organisms like bacteria.

'Animal feed'

The Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Amendment Act 2007 extended the definition of agricultural compound to include animal feed. This includes pet food.


For MPI, a plant is any organism commonly understood to be a plant in New Zealand, regardless of its taxonomic classification. This includes mushrooms and other fungi.

'Post-harvest treatment'

Post-harvest treatments are generally used to control pests or treat infestations of raw primary produce. The scope of this term (and of the term 'agricultural compound') was broadened by the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Amendment Act 2007. It’s not practical for MPI to set a single scope for post-harvest treatments that would apply equally to every industry. Instead, we use the common terminology of each industry sector to set the scope of post-harvest treatments for that sector. 


The ACVM Act has 3 main purposes. The first is to prevent or manage risks associated with the use of agricultural compounds. The second is to ensure that the use of these compounds does not breach domestic food residue standards. And the third is to make sure there is enough consumer information available about the compounds. The risk areas listed in the ACVM Act’s purpose section don’t alter the scope of the term 'agricultural compound'. 


To recap: agricultural compounds are compounds used to manage animals and plants for the purposes listed in section 2 of the ACVM Act. Some compounds are considered agricultural compounds only in certain circumstances. Working out which products are agricultural compounds is the first step you need to take under the ACVM Act.

The ACVM Act requires all agricultural compounds to either be registered or exempt from registration. The Act provides tools that can be used to manage some risks related to agricultural compounds. Even so, the ACVM Act does not require or mandate MPI to take responsibility for managing all possible risks. Responsibility is split between several government agencies.  

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