Farming News - Green group takes legal action against Defra pesticide decision

Green group takes legal action against Defra pesticide decision

28 Jul 2015
Frontdesk / Arable

On Tuesday, Friends of the Earth announced that it has taken the first formal steps to mount a legal challenge against Defra’s acutely controversial decision to allow two neonicotinoid insecticides covered by the EU Commission’s ‘partial ban’ to be used on 30,000ha of the UK’s oilseed rape crop this year.    

Friends of the Earth has challenged plans to allow a 'partially banned' insecticide to be used on crops this autumnThe derogation granted by Defra covers an estimated 5 percent of the UK OSR area. Defra made the allowance on Wednesday 22nd July, the last day before the Parliamentary recess, in response to a second appeal submitted by the NFU.

On Tuesday morning, Friends of the Earth revealed that it has written up a judicial review pre-action letter to Defra Secretary Liz Truss MP, as the prospective defendant.

FoE’s legal action comes amidst claims that regulators considering the NFU’s second application failed to uphold transparency commitments, by refusing to release minutes of key meetings with advisors or details of the NFU’s submissions. The environment charity took action after Defra and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) failed to supply information on the criteria and process used to approve the controversial derogation, despite repeated requests.

Defra’s conditions

On Friday, the NFU published information on conditions that have been attached to the derogations for two neonicotinoid seed treatments (Bayer’s Modesto and Syngenta’s Cruiser OSR) by Defra and the Chemical Regulation Directorate.
These are:

  • The authorisation is limited to areas with the highest risk of cabbage stem flea beetle pests.  This will cover four counties: Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. Last year there was approximately 90,000 Ha of oilseed rape grown in these four counties, and the counties were hardest hit by CSFB pests in 2014/15.
  • The products will be for certified seed only.
  • Farmers who use the product will be asked to take part in scientific research to measure the impact of the plant protection products on their crops.


NFU Vice President Guy Smith commented, “We have been working with the suppliers to better understand how the neonicotinoid seed treatments will be made available after the NFU secured the emergency use authorisation to provide much needed protection from the pest cabbage stem flea beetle.
“We understand the emergency authorisations will apply to certified seed only and there will be strict stewardship agreements in place governing its use. It is important to have the details finalised so that farmers know how they can access this treated seed.”
However, this week Friends of the Earth said that the Government’s authorisations appear to contain no conditions to address concerns about the risk to bees, nor any reasons to explain why the authorisations are regarded as a necessary 'emergency' measure. Three neonicotinoids were initially subjected to restrictions by the EU Commission in light of growing evidence of their impacts on bee health. Since the partial ban came into effect, more evidence has emerged to suggest that health impacts may extend to different levels of an ecosystem.

Friends of the Earth’s initial letter will require Defra to release proper information about the Government’s basis for the decision and provide details of what controls are in place regarding the use of pesticides, which the organisation said will determine whether or not its legal challenge will proceed.

On Friday, NFU’s Guy Smith said, “I realise that if we are to lobby in the future for a return to the situation where all growers can benefit from this technology then getting a few thousand acres of oilseed rape sown with neonicotinoid seed dressings will help demonstrate their importance for all of us.”

Commenting on Tuesday, Friends of the Earth’s senior nature campaigner, Paul De Zylva, said, “The huge public interest in bee decline and pesticide use contrasts with the Government’s excessive secrecy and handling of this decision to let bee-harming pesticides back into our fields this autumn.

"Ministers pledged their decisions would be based on science but it has been hard obtaining information, including about the scientific basis, despite repeat requests. We have now sent a legal letter because of the lack of information, raising concerns about the decision-making process and the lawfulness of the decision.”