Campaigners lose bid to challenge ‘bee-harming’ pesticides decision
Environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) were refused permission to apply for judicial review of a decision in July allowing farmers to drill oilseed rape seeds coated with two neonicotinoid pesticides this autumn.
A judge ruled their case “unarguable on all grounds”.
An EU-wide two-year ban was put in place after some studies showed the pesticides caused significant harm to #bees, but Environment Secretary Liz Truss used emergency powers to partially lift it.
FoE said more than half a million people have signed petitions against the move.
The Government authorised a 120-day easing of the ban in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire after the National Farmers Union (NFU) said cabbage fly stem beetle attacks were likely to threaten crops.
FoE accused the Environment Secretary of taking an unlawful approach to the emergency authorisations.
Gerry Facenna, appearing for FoE, said at a recent hearing that the application for judicial review would be an important test case concerning the protection of bees and other pollinating insects.
Although it was too late to stop the pesticides Modesto and Cruiser OSR being used this autumn, it was clear further applications would be made to use neonicotinoid products next year, he said.
Mr Facenna argued that, under EU regulations, emergency authorisations could only be granted in “special circumstances” where a danger to crops “cannot be controlled by another reasonable means”.
He told Mrs Justice Patterson the Environment Secretary had failed to satisfy the relevant tests and the regulations were being unlawfully circumvented.
But the judge disagreed, saying the minister was “entitled to give appropriate deference to the expert and scientific evidence before her and make her own judgment as to whether special circumstances existed”.
The judge concluded: “I find this case unarguable on all the grounds that have been the subject of oral argument before me. The application is dismissed.”
The ruling was a victory for the Government and the NFU, which joined forces to argue the authorisation was justified.
They submitted proper investigations were conducted to see if alternative methods of pest control were available, but there was an absence of evidence that any would be effective.
They said the use of #neonicotinoids was being strictly controlled, with decisions on whether they were necessary being carried out at a “field by field” level.
The ruling comes as thousands of people are signing up to schemes aimed at creating new habitats for bees and pollinators.
A range of initiatives have been launched by environmental groups, retailers and schools in the year since the Government launched its National Pollinator Strategy.
Schemes include conservation charity Buglife setting up 800 “Urban Buzz” hotspots.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has provided £20,000 in grants to five Local Nature Partnership projects in Hertfordshire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, the North East and Surrey.
Reacting to the decision, Friends of the Earth bee campaigner Dave Timms said: “It’s extremely disappointing that our application to challenge the Government’s decision to allow the use of banned, bee-harming pesticides has been turned down.
“We believe this ruling is flawed, ignores important facts and gives too much credibility to pesticide industry evidence to support the use of its own products. We are now considering an appeal.
“Our legal challenge has revealed fundamental flaws with the decision-making process for these emergency authorisations, which was shrouded in secrecy until the Government was forced to provide crucial papers to us.
“The Government’s decision was too dependent on evidence provided by the pesticide firms, who have a direct commercial interest in these chemicals and seeing the ban on neonicotinoids lifted.”
Mr Timms added: “The Government must urgently address how it has handled its approval of the use of these chemicals or risk further undermining public confidence in its ability to safely regulate pesticides to protect bees and our environment.
“The delays in getting vital information from the Government to bring this case to court means that even if we had gained permission to proceed, it would have been too late to prevent the seeds form being sown and bees from being exposed to risk this year.
“We can only hope that by next year, when the NFU and chemical companies say they intend making more applications to use bee-harming pesticides, the Government will have radically revised its process to ensure complete transparency, and will have read the latest scientific papers.
“We are certainly not ruling out further legal challenges in future.”
NFU vice-president Guy Smith said he was “extremely pleased” the legal challenge had been cut short.
Mr Smith said: “The emergency authorisation mechanism is crucial for (EU) member states to have.
“The NFU has been urging governments at an EU and domestic level to look to sound science as a basis for restrictions on plant protection products as part of the Healthy Harvest campaign.
“Throughout the application process and in our representations in this case the NFU has sought to approach what can be a highly charged issue in a sober, balanced manner that looks after the interests of growers while respecting the needs of the #wildlife that uses farm crops as habitat.”
NFU combinable crops board chairman Mike Hambly said: “The NFU has fought for many months for its members who are struggling to establish oilseed rape crops in areas of high cabbage stem flea beetle pressure.
“Since restrictions on neonicotinoid use were put in place in December 2013, the damage caused by this pest has been a widespread problem. The seed treatment provides an efficient and targeted solution.”