Pesticides – UK Government behind the pace again - taken to Court
Leading pesticides campaigner, Georgina Downs has lodged amended grounds in the High Court to continue her Judicial Review challenge regarding the Government’s fundamental failure to protect rural residents and others in the countryside from exposure to agricultural pesticides. For the last 5 years, Ms. Downs, who runs the UK Pesticides Campaign (www.pesticidescampaign.co.uk), has been presenting a case to the Government to highlight the lack of regulation, including the lack of any risk assessment for residents, and the serious inadequacies of the so-called “bystander risk assessment.”
Ms. Downs’ campaign led to considerable political activity including further consideration of the issue by the Government’s Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP) and the Government regulators the Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD); two DEFRA Consultation’s on crop-spraying, followed by a year long investigation by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP).
The RCEP’s conclusions overturned previous Government assertions over the safety of pesticides, as the RCEP concluded that the current policy is completely inadequate.
However, despite the fact that DEFRA Ministers had requested the RCEP inquiry in the first place, the Government subsequently dismissed all the criticisms of the existing policy, refused to acknowledge the health risks inherent in the spraying of agricultural chemicals and dismissed any link between pesticides and chronic ill-health conditions.
This is in stark contrast to the statement recently made by the European Commission on 12th July 2006 in relation to the new EU Thematic Strategy on pesticides, which acknowledged that, “Long term exposure to pesticides can lead to serious disturbances to the immune system, sexual disorders, cancers, sterility, birth defects, damage to the nervous system and genetic damage.”
Georgina Downs states, “The Government’s response to this issue has been of the utmost complacency and is completely irresponsible. It also appears incompatible with EU legislation on a number of counts and this is the reason I am bringing these proceedings, as the Government must be challenged over its failure to act to protect public health, especially in relation to babies, children and other vulnerable groups.”
In relation to the Government’s rejection of all the key regulatory recommendations of the RCEP report Michael Fordham QC (Human Rights Lawyer of the Year 2005), who with Emma Dixon represents Ms Downs, argues in the amended grounds that, “The Secretary of State’s reasons given for rejecting the conclusions and recommendations of the Royal Commission were not consistent with the legislative standards of protection and proactivity. They betrayed a misappreciation of those legal standards…” Mr. Fordham concludes that the Secretary of State’s approach “…is unlawful and unjustified.”
Prior to the Government’s response to the RCEP report Ms. Downs approached both the DEFRA Secretary of State, David Miliband and Lord Rooker, the DEFRA Minister responsible for pesticides, to request a meeting to be able to present the case regarding the lack of regulation for residents, in the same way she had with previous DEFRA Ministers before them.
However, despite the fact that David Miliband had previously stated in writing to Tony Blair that “We also need to maintain the confidence of people in rural areas that the Government understands their concerns,” Ms. Downs’ request for a meeting prior to the Government’s response was declined. “This meant that prior to and on taking the decision regarding the Government’s response to the RCEP report, neither Minister had heard directly from the very person who had raised the issue regarding the lack of regulation for residents, in the first place”, says Ms. Downs.
(Ed: Apparently Pesticides were not even mentioned in the recent UK Government White Paper on Cancer. We will keep you posted)