No derogation is possible from the European ban on seeds treated with neonicotinoids, including in the exceptional circumstances invoked to protect beets, the Court of Justice of the European Union estimated on Thursday, compromising "emergency authorizations" granted by several countries including France.
The European Union has banned since 2018 the use in open fields, for all crops, of three neonicotinoids (clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid), accused of accelerating the massive decline of bee colonies.
Appeared in the 1990s, they protect beets from jaundice, transmitted by green aphids, by attacking the nervous system of insects, and therefore pollinators.
Even at low doses, bees and bumblebees are disoriented, can no longer find their hive, male sperm is altered...
Beet growers fear "a very difficult situation"
However, eleven EU member states have adopted "emergency authorizations" to deal with the drop in their yields in the face of diseases, including Belgium and France - which was preparing to renew its derogation for seeds. which will begin in March, for the third year.
If tomorrow France, the leading European sugar producer, renounced a new derogation, the 24,000 or so French planters would find themselves in “a very difficult situation”, reacted to AFP Christian Durlin, producer from the north of France.
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"The brutality of such a decision, applied as it stands, risks having disastrous and irreversible consequences in our rural territories even as policies encourage food/energy sovereignty and the reindustrialization of France", denounced the General Confederation of Beet Planters in the evening.
Referred by NGOs and a beekeeper to the case of six derogations adopted in the fall of 2018 by Belgium, notably concerning seeds, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) deemed them illegal.
The judgments of the CJEU are binding on the courts of the Twenty-Seven.
The government analyzes the court decision
Contacted by AFP, the Belgian Ministry of Agriculture observed that its derogations, accompanied by "strict measures of use", have not been issued since 2020, and therefore that the decision will have "no consequence for the Belgium ".
In France, the government did not react on the merits, saying it was analyzing the decision.
Admittedly, the Court ruled, a provision allows Member States to authorize exceptionally and temporarily the use of pesticides containing substances banned in the EU, but this provision "does not allow derogation from the regulations expressly aimed at prohibiting placing on the market and use of seeds treated with such products”.
Member States must give preference to insecticide methods "low in pesticide content", or even "non-chemical" when possible, and use "practices and products presenting the lowest risk for human health and the environment among those available," said the court.
In France, Parliament authorized the temporary return of neonicotinoids at the end of 2020 to rescue the beet industry after a harvest ravaged by jaundice.
By specifying that derogations could only be granted, until July 2023, for sugar beet seeds.
A third waiver for 2023, after 2021 and 2022, was about to be adopted.
But several organizations, including the League for the Protection of Birds, are asking the government to give it up.
A meeting of the French Neonicotinoid Monitoring Council, initially scheduled for Friday on the subject, has been postponed to January 26.
The Government will use this period "to assess the legal consequences of this decision in French law and the consequences for the production campaign which opens", said the Ministry of Agriculture.
In Germany, derogations were granted on around a third of the beet areas in 2021, according to the sector federation.
For 14 pesticides banned by Brussels, 236 derogations have been adopted in the EU for four years, half concerning neonicotinoids, estimates the association PAN Europe, co-applicant before the CJEU.
"The CJEU clearly establishes that substances banned in the EU for health or environmental reasons cannot be reintroduced in a roundabout way at state level, a practice that has become common," observes NGO lawyer Antoine Bailleux.
PAN Europe Director Martin Dermine hailed "a great day for pollinators in Europe", which "recalls that the law must take precedence over the interests of the pesticide industry".