European Court of Justice bans use of bee-toxic pesticides

19 January 2023

The European Court of Justice ruled that EU countries should no longer be allowed temporary exemptions for banned, bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides. These prohibition measures were adopted to ensure the high level of animal health protection sought within the EU, the EU Court explains.

Thiamethoxam and clothianidin are neonicotinoid insecticides used in agriculture for seed treatment, which were previously authorized in the Union. However, due to the high acute and chronic risks to bees from seeds treated with these neonicotinoids, and taking into account the high level of animal health protection sought in the EU, the European Commission adopted in 2018 new regulations imposing very strict restrictions on the use of these substances.

Two regulations banned the marketing and use of seeds treated with neonicotinoid substances since the end of 2018, except for crops grown in permanent greenhouse. However, in the autumn of 2018, by invoking the temporary derogation in Article 53(1) of Regulation 1107/2009, the Belgian State issued six authorizations for the use of plant protection products based on clothianidin and thiamethoxam for the treatment of seeds of certain crops, including sugar beets, as well as for the placing on the market of these seeds and their sowing in the open air.

Two associations fighting against pesticides and promoting biodiversity, as well as a beekeeper, have filed an appeal before the Belgian Council of State against these authorizations. And the Belgian Council of State asked the Court to determine whether it is possible to derogate from the ban.

According to the court, Member States are allowed, in exceptional circumstances, to authorise the placing on the market of plant protection products containing substances which are not covered by an approval regulation, but they cannot derogate from EU regulations expressly aimed at prohibiting the marketing and use of seeds treated with such products.