Monday 24th of November 2008
Georgina Downs Wins 7 Year Pesticide Battle
Campaigner Georgina celebrates outside the High Court after her victory
David Adam, environment correspondent - guardian.co.uk
"An environmental campaigner yesterday won a landmark victory against the government in a long- running legal battle over the use of pesticides. The high court ruled that Georgina Downs, who runs the UK Pesticides Campaign, had produced "solid evidence" that people exposed to chemicals used to spray crops had suffered harm.
The court said the government had failed to comply with a European directive designed to protect rural communities from exposure to the toxins. It said the environment department, Defra, must reassess its policy and investigate the risks to people who are exposed. Defra had argued that its approach to the regulation and control of pesticides was "reasonable, logical and lawful".
Downs, who lives on the edge of farmland near Chichester, West Sussex, launched her campaign in 2001. The judge described how she was first exposed to pesticide spraying at the age of 11 "and began to suffer from ill health, in particular flu-like symptoms, a sore throat, blistering and other problems".
Downs said the government had failed to address the concerns of people living in the countryside "who are repeatedly exposed to mixtures of pesticides and other chemicals throughout every year, and in many cases, like mine, for decades". People were not given prior notification about what was to be sprayed near their homes and gardens, she said.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Collins highlighted that the 1986 Control of Pesticides Regulations states that beekeepers must be given 48 hours notice if pesticides harmful to bees are to be used. The judge said: "It is difficult to see why residents should be in a worse position."
Speaking after the ruling, Downs said her seven-year battle was over "one of the biggest public health scandals of our time". She called on Gordon Brown to block any Defra appeal. "The government "should now just admit that it got it wrong, apologise and actually get on with protecting the health and citizens of this country".
The case centred on the way the government assesses the risk posed by pesticides. The current method is based on occasional, short-term exposure to a "bystander" and assumes that individuals would be exposed to an individual pesticide during a single pass.
Downs said: "The judge has agreed with my long-standing charge that this bystander model does not and cannot address residents who are repeatedly exposed." The model does not account for rural residents exposed to mixtures of pesticides and other chemicals "throughout every year and, in many cases like my own, for decades".
She said: "The fact that there has never been any assessment of the risk to health for the long-term exposure for those who live, work or go to school near pesticide-sprayed fields is an absolute scandal, considering that crop-spraying has been a predominant feature of agriculture for over 50 years."
Downs' campaign has collected evidence from other residents who report health problems including cancer, Parkinson's disease, ME and asthma, which they claim could be linked to crop-spraying.
The judge said "defects" in Defra's approach to pesticide safety contravened a 1991 EC directive. He said Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, "must think again and consider what needs to be done".
A Defra spokesman said: "The protection of human health is paramount. Pesticides used in this country are rigorously assessed to the same standards as the rest of the EU and use is only ever authorised after internationally approved tests ... We will look at this judgment in detail to see whether there are ways in which we can strengthen our system further and also to consider whether it could put us out of step with the rest of Europe and have implications for other member states."
The European parliament's environment committee last week approved new ways of assessing the risk of potentially hazardous sprays to protect crops and plants. The new criteria are part of an attempt to halve the use of toxic products in European farming by 2013. A final vote on the proposals is due next month or in January."
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