Dutch judge bans spraying of pesticides on lily fields

For the very first time, a judge in an EU country has banned the spraying of pesticides on a specific crop because it poses high risks to health. A lily grower in the north of the Netherlands is no longer allowed to spray pesticides on his lily field. The ruling is remarkable because the pesticides are authorised. However, the judge considers there are clear indications of harm to health and the environment and in this case, the precautionary principle prevails over profit. The court also considers that It is not about food production, but the extremely pesticide-intensive growing of lilies, a luxury product. That pesticides are permitted by law and that this grower is even doing more to protect the environment than required by law does not rule out potentially serious injury.

The case was started before a civil court by local residents. They fear contracting serious neurological diseases such as Parkinson's or ALS. The lily grower sprays a cocktail of pesticides every week. He does so according to the rules and takes extra measures, such as a small buffer zone between the field and the gardens of nearby residents. Despite this, the judge decided that residents run too many risks, which outweigh the profitability of lily cultivation.

According to the court, with regard to a number of pesticides used by lily grower, the possibility cannot be excluded that they may have an unacceptable harmful effect on humans. Based on the current authorisation requirements and the way the pesticides are applied, insufficient assurance can be given that these risks are reduced to an acceptable minimum. Substantial research is available showing a link between exposure of citizens to pesticides and serious neurological disorders (such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and ALS). 

The judge argues that there is a gap between the official authorisation of a number of pesticides and the (serious) effects they may have on people. This is especially the case with neurotoxicity.  The judge considers there is 'substantial international research', showing 'a causal link' between certain plant protection products and the development of neurological disorders such as Parkinson's. The organisations that assess the products, the Dutch Ctgb and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), acknowledge this gap. PAN Europe recently asked the EU Commission to address this gap in pesticide assessment (see below).

On top of that, the two authorities do not consider the effect of exposure to 'cocktails' of pesticides. The judge considers that not enough is yet known about the wider effects on health and the environment in the longer term. The lack of knowledge on exposure to multiple residues of pesticides triggered the SPRINT research programme involving Wageningen University, quoted in the verdict. The programme is not yet complete, but initial findings do not reassure. For instance, 170 different pesticides were found in Groningen and Frisian farmers' own houses (in potato farms). The quantities are high, compared to other countries.


Lilies are the most sprayed crop

Lily farming stands out when it comes to pesticide use. It is the relatively most sprayed crop in the Netherlands, the court noted. Dutch National Health Service GGD advises to close windows and doors in the neighbourhood during the weekly spraying, stay indoors for several hours and do not hang laundry or let kids play outside. The Health Council recommends using as few pesticides as possible that could potentially cause neurological disorders.

Local residents and groups like Meten=Weten and PAN Netherlands have long been deeply concerned about the intensive use of pesticides in the Netherlands, especially in the cultivation of flower bulbs and particularly lilies.

Growing lilies is a choice, argues the court. The grower can also choose other crops that require less pesticides. Moreover, lilies are not a food crop, for which the trade-off between different interests might have turned out differently.

Mind you, this was a summary judgement, in an urgent legal procedure. Whether this will stand on appeal remains to be seen, though the judgement is well founded as you can read above.


Clear understanding of EU pesticide regulations

In this court case, the judge had a clear understanding of the EU pesticide regulation. Health and environment must be protected, above profit and in case of doubt, the precautionary principle needs to be applied. This was clearly stressed by the January 2023 ruling of the EU Court of Justice about pesticide derogations. The verdict explains clearly how the EU law should be applied. It should “ensure a high level of protection of human and animal health and the environment,” based on “the precautionary principle (….) in order to prevent active substances or products placed on the market from harming human or animal health or the environment. And “the objective of protecting human and animal health and the environment should ‘take priority’ over the objective of improving plant production.”

We encourage the judge and courts in other EU countries to follow this clear example on the way to true protection of health and the environment, clearly established by EU and national laws.


Background information


Annexe: Ruling of  January 19, 2023 by the EU Court of Justice explains how to apply the EU pesticide regulation

46. Such prohibitions thus meet the objective of Regulation No 1107/2009 which is, as stated in Article 1(3) and (4) of that regulation and reflected in recital 8 thereof, in particular to ensure a high level of protection of human and animal health and the environment.

47. In that regard, it should be borne in mind that those provisions are based on the precautionary principle, which is one of the bases of the policy of a high level of protection pursued by the European Union in the field of the environment, in accordance with the first subparagraph of Article 191(2) TFEU, in order to prevent active substances or products placed on the market from harming human or animal health or the environment.

48. Furthermore, it is clear, as stated in recital 24 of Regulation No 1107/2009, that the provisions governing authorisations must ensure a high standard of protection and that, in particular, when granting authorisations of plant protection products, the objective of protecting human and animal health and the environment should ‘take priority’ over the objective of improving plant production (see, by analogy, judgment of 5 May 2022, R. en R. (Agricultural use of an unauthorised product), C-189/21, EU:C:2022:360, paragraphs 42 and 43).

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