Press release

Changes to Formaldehyde (Formalin) rules

Informal note on Defra’s position on Formaldehyde (Formalin)


From 1 January 2016 formaldehyde will be classified as a Category 1B carcinogen. This means certain restrictions will apply to it.

It will only be able to be used for professional use, and it can only be put on the market by a registered supplier. It will have to be labelled appropriately for its chemical categorisation and therefore used in a competent manner.

The registered supplier is the company or consortium which has supported its application through the REACH process. Formaldehyde’s application was supported by Germany, so it is assumed a German company has done the technical safety work.

The following impacts will happen on its use for animal related agriculture:

  • there is no UK legal definition of ‘professional’. Therefore users in the UK are required to be competent and using the chemical in a professional activity.
  • Fish, poultry, sheep and cattle farmers - as professionals - will be able to continue to use products containing formaldehyde for dis-infection, fumigation and foot bathing purposes. It can be used for other professional purposes eg preservation of samples for histopathology.
  • whoever is physically using the product must be competent enough to meet the restrictions and precautions detailed by the labelling. There is no requirement to prove competency before purchase and use. However if a health and safety issue arose through its use and be investigated, and the person using it found not to have been suitably trained and competent, then there could be grounds for prosecution.
  • UK suppliers of formaldehyde containing products will have 2 options in becoming registered suppliers:
    • they would need to become part of the German consortium and pay a fee
    • the German registered supplier cannot refuse, if asked, to share the appropriate data and provide a letter of access to another company when requested. There is no barrier to the requesting company being asked to pay for this access, but it then makes them part of the registered supplier supply chain and able to access the product.

Additionally formalin is being considered in the evaluation programme of the biocidal products regulations. Approval for its use as a biocide will be for 5 years from when a Member State unqualified majority vote agrees to it. HSE believes it is unlikely a qualified majority will not be reached for formalin ie it should be approved. Again approval means that use comes with precautions and restrictions stipulated in appropriate labelling. These may be to wear specific personal protective equipment, or use it only below certain concentration limits.

Formaldehyde (formalin) is not approved as a veterinary medicine. The veterinary medicines legislation and the biocide legislation cross over, but products are only on one or the other and not both. Therefore use in foot baths is technically as a biocide and not a veterinary medicine.

Published 23 November 2015