EU Court puts end to emergency use of bee-toxic pesticides

The EU’s highest court ruled on Thursday (19 January) that EU countries should no longer be allowed temporary exemptions for banned, bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides, putting half of all such derogations to an end. 

It is reported by Euractiv.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) confirmed that member states will no longer be allowed to grant derogations temporarily permitting the use of seeds treated with ‘expressly banned’ plant protection products by EU law.

The ruling came in the wake of a request for annulment before the Belgian Administrative Court on the derogation given by Belgium for the use of these bee-toxic insecticides on sugar beets. The request was brought by the campaigner groups Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe and Nature & Progrès Belgium together with a Belgian beekeeper.

The plant protection products in question – imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam – belong to a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which are chemically similar to nicotine and target insects.

Neonicotinoids have come under fire in recent years for contributing to the decline of bees by disrupting their sense of orientation, memory and mode of reproduction. 

Partial restrictions on the use of these products on bee-attractive crops were imposed by the European Commission in 2013, followed by a ban on all outdoor uses in 2018.

In 2021, the ECJ confirmed that the Commission was right to ban the use of neonicotinoids on bee-attractive crops after Bayer, the producer of the pesticides, filed an appeal.

The latest ruling concerns six authorisations issued by the Belgian state for the use of these plant protection products on the basis of ‘emergency situations’ – where danger or threat to plant production or ecosystems cannot be contained by other reasonable means.

For this reason, the Court concluded that “as regards seeds treated with plant protection products containing substances expressly prohibited, […] the [EU] legislature did not intend to allow member states to derogate from such an express prohibition.”

In addition, the ruling stressed, “the obligation of all member states to take all necessary measures to promote low pesticide input pest control, giving priority to non-chemical methods wherever possible.”