Top EU court upholds French ban on bee-killing pesticides
The European Court of Justice on Oct. 8 has dismissed a case filed against France for banning certain neonicotinoids. The Luxembourg-based court ruled that the country sufficiently demonstrated an urgent need to curb a “serious risk to human or animal health or to the environment.”
France had been in a heated legal battle against the French Crop Protection Association, an agricultural lobbying group, since imposing a 2018 ban on five pesticides belonging to the neonicotinoid group.
Neonicotinoids, which are based on nicotine’s chemical structure, attack insects’ central nervous system and are linked to “colony collapse disorder,” a mysterious phenomenon in which honeybees disappear from their hives.
France did not violate EU law, says panel
In 2013, the European Union (EU) implemented some regulations curbing the use of three neonicotinoids. But the French government enforced an even stricter regulation that outlawed the use of five pesticides outdoors and in greenhouses: acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam.
The Crop Protection Association filed a complaint at the French Council of State, arguing that the government did not properly inform the EU that it was planning to deviate from the 2013 regulations.
Under the rule of EU law, member states are required to harmonize their laws to ensure uniform standards across the internal market. They may, however, deviate under certain circumstances, including in emergencies.
On Thursday, the Court of Justice upheld that France did not violate EU law. “After officially informing the commission of the need to take urgent action, a member state may take interim protective measures,” the court wrote in a ruling.
The panel also stated that the French government was able to present sufficient evidence supporting the need to address health and environmental risks that “cannot be satisfactorily controlled without the urgent adoption of measures.”
Introduced in the 1990s, neonicotinoids were found to confuse bees and make them lose their way back home or to food sources. Exposure to the chemicals may also lower their resistance to disease. The United Nations warned that nearly half of all insect pollinators, including bees and butterflies, are at risk of global extinction.
France might have to scale back on the ban
The EU ruling came after members of the Parliament in France’s lower assembly voted on Oct. 6 to temporarily bring back the banned neonicotinoids. The bill, which is pending the Senate’s review, will allow farmers to use the chemicals starting next year until 2023.
Sugar beet crops in the country have been plagued with green aphids since the ban was imposed. These insects bring a leaf-yellowing virus that dramatically reduces yield.
The controversial decision garnered extreme reactions from both sides of the ban. The Union of Sugar Beet Growers commended the lower house’s courage and ambition in its move to enliven the threatened sugar beet industry. The National Union of French Beekeeping, however, called the vote “an insult” to bees and beekeepers.
Minister of Agriculture Julien Denormandie said that making a decision had been a tough one. While the majority of the voting body would rather vote against the pesticides, he stated that there’s currently no alternative.
But Freddie-Jean Richard, a biologist at the University of Poitiers, told RFI that natural alternatives do exist. Some species of ladybirds, for instance, prey on aphids. He insisted that the solution to the pest problem does not rest on replacing one toxic product with another.
“Waiting for a new pesticide or insecticide that does the same thing but has a different name is not the solution,” said Richard.
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