Belgium marketed illegal pesticides, rules European Court of Justice

On Thursday, the European Court of Justice ruled that Belgium wrongly used an exemption in European legislation to market pesticides containing neonicotinoids, which are particularly harmful to bees.

The use and sale of seeds treated with plant protection products (pesticides) are banned in the European Union because these substances are considered harmful to bees. However, there is an exception in place for seeds that remain in greenhouses and are not replanted outside.

Belgium took advantage of that exception in 2018 to temporarily market the pesticides Poncho Beta (from Bayer) and Cruiser 600 FS (from Syngenta) to protect sugar beet seeds. Four other pesticides were also temporarily authorised to sow seeds of sugar beet, carrots, lettuce, chicory, red-leaf and green leaf (sugar loaf).

The European Court said on Thursday that Belgium should not have done so. European law is clear, the court stated: the marketing and use of seeds treated with the aforementioned substances are expressly prohibited - the loophole that no other reasonable means can be used does not apply. Moreover, the approval of the pesticides in question expired in 2019

"I want to thank Belgian and European civil society for its vigilance in this dossier of pesticides," reacted Belgian Environment minister Zakia Khattabi. "The abuse of the derogation system ensures that there is no investment in the research of alternatives."

Meanwhile, Belgian minister of Agriculture David Clarinval told the House on Thursday that the ruling will not have any consequences for Belgium. He claims that Belgium no longer grants these exceptions, which is not the case in many other European countries.

In 2018, former Agriculture minister Denis Ducarme allowed two of the pesticides, with strict measures for their use, Clarinval said. In 2019 and 2020, six emergency authorisations for these pesticides were issued. "However, I remind you that since 2020, we have stopped issuing these authorisations," he added.

The minister also pointed out that the European Commission has always indicated that EU member states are 'fit' to issue authorisations for sowing these seeds. "Belgium has always been exemplary, and strict, in this field within the European Union", he concluded. Despite this, the Green party, also part of the government, wants an audit to be carried out.


A protest action against the pesticides at the Syngenta firm in Seneffe, Belgium. © BELGA PHOTO MATHIEU COLINET


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