The UK High Court has called upon the government to rethink its pesticide policy and protect people from crop sprays.
Justice Collins held the Government had failed to meet its obligations under European Union law to protect rural residents and communities from the possible harmful exposure to pesticides.
AdvertisementHe was ruling on a petition filed by Georgina Downs who had launched her independent UK Pesticides Campaign in 2001.
She submitted evidence to show that agricultural chemicals caused a variety of health problems including cancer, Parkinson's disease, ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and asthma.
Miss Downs, whose home near Chichester, West Sussex, borders crop fields, is a well-known face in the anti-pesticide campaign in the country.
In his ruling Justice Collins concurred with the material produced before him and granted the application for a judicial review.
Miss Downs said the Government had failed to address countryside residents such as herself, "who are repeatedly exposed to mixtures of pesticides and other chemicals throughout every year, and in many cases, like mine, for decades."
And she claimed that under current rules local people were not even entitled to a warning about what was being sprayed near their homes and gardens.
Giving his ruling, Justice Collins said Miss Downs had been only 11 years old when first exposed to pesticide spraying "and began to suffer from ill-health, in particular flu-like symptoms, sore throat, blistering and other problems."
He said it was interesting to note that the 1986 Control of Pesticides Regulations stated that beekeepers must be given 48 hours' notice if pesticides harmful to bees were to be used.
The judge said: "It is difficult to see why residents should be in a worse position."
In court the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had argued that its approach to the regulation and control of pesticides was "reasonable, logical and lawful in all the circumstances."
But the judge ruled that the result of his judgment was that Mr Benn "must think again and consider what needs to be done".
"He must take steps to produce an adequate assessment of the risks to residents."
The judge said the Government must also "carefully reconsider" whether the existing conditions for pesticide use were adequate.
"The need to inform residents of imminent spraying and of the composition of pesticides to be used is, I think clear.
"Voluntary action is not achieving this.
"Equally, I think there is a very strong case for a buffer zone, such as incidentally already exists to avoid spraying too close to watercourses, in order to minimise the risk of pesticides entering groundwater."
Miss Downs said 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 judgment had made "very clear" that the Government had been acting unlawfully, and the health of rural residents and communities was not being protected.
The Government's current method of assessing risk was based on the model of a "bystander," and assumed there would only be occasional, short-term exposure of an individual to pesticide spray clouds at the time of spraying, Miss Downs said.
"The UK Government's relentless and extraordinary attempts to protect industry, as opposed to people's health, has been one of the most outrageous things to behold in the last seven years of my fight," she said.
A Defra spokesperson 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.
"These explicitly include impacts on people who live next to fields, consumers who eat treated crops and farmers who do the spraying.
"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."
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