ECJ Says Treated Seeds not Exempt from Neonic Ban

23.01.2023 - In what some see as a landmark decision, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg has ruled that EU member states should no longer be allowed to grant temporary exemptions for use of bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides expressly prohibited by law.

The preliminary ruling on Jan. 19 was in response to a request filed by NGOs Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe and Nature & Progrès Belgium, together with a Belgian beekeeper to annul a Belgian derogation for sugar beet seeds pre-treated with imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam.

It was the second such lawsuit decided by Europe’s highest court since the EU Commission banned the use of neonics on bee-attractive crops in 2013, following up in 2018 with a ban on all outdoor applications.

In 2021, hearing a challenge by Bayer CropScience, which makes two of the substances (Syngenta makes thiamethoxan), the court upheld both the ban and the Commission’s right not to allow exemptions. It also mandated that Bayer pay legal costs incurred by the NGOs that defended the Commission’s decision.

This month’s case concerned six emergency use authorizations issued by the Belgian government, allowing the chemicals to be used where the danger or threat to plant production or ecosystems “cannot be contained by other reasonable means.”

In the EJC’s opinion, the Commission did not intend to exempt treated seeds from the ban. At the same time, it stressed that “it is 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.”

The environmental campaigners had argued that neonics are increasingly being used preemptively through seed coating rather than being sprayed directly on the crop. According to reports, this class of crop protectants accounted for nearly half of the 236 exceptions EU countries granted for banned pesticides from 2019 to 2022.

In a comment, the crop protection manufacturers’ industry association CropLife Europe pointed to “regulatory roadblocks.” While its member companies do not support using derogations on a regular basis, the grouping said farmers often have no choice, due to delays in EU approvals products or countries not recognizing each other’s authorizations.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist