Pesticides campaigner takes Defra to the High Court

A woman who has been fighting for stricter laws controlling the spraying of agricultural chemicals has welcomed a judge's decision to allow her to take her battle to the next level.

For the past six years Georgina Downs has waged a one-woman war against Defra for its perceived failure to provide protection against the damage caused by pesticides, both to the environment and human health.

Through the vehicle of her UK Pesticides Campaign, Ms Downs has been arguing that Government is legally obliged to protect people with tighter regulation, risk assessment for spraying near residential areas and what she sees as the serious inadequacies of the existing bystander risk assessment.

“The fact that there has never been any risk assessment for the long-term exposure for those who live, work or go to school near pesticide sprayed fields means that there is no evidence to support the Government’s continued assertions that there are no health risks to people in the countryside from crop-spraying,” she said.

Ms Downs has now been granted permission by a High Court Judge, Honourable Justice Mitting, to Judicially Review the approach taken and policy adopted by David Miliband to the control of the use of pesticides in crop-spraying.

Her case is based on the fact that Government has chosen to ignore several of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP), which was asked by Ministers to examine the potential threat to health and the environment posed by spraying.

The commission had concluded there was a lack of concrete evidence on the health impacts of pesticides and suggested the precautionary principle be followed until more information was available.

The easiest way to do this, it said, would be to to introduce no-spray buffer zones around the edges of fields which backed onto residential areas.

Government considered the advise but decided the buffer zones were unproven and unnecessary and would put an unacceptable financial burden on farmers.

Ms Downs claimed that Defra’s response to the RCEP report, published in July 2006, continued to demonstrate the Government’s ‘clear commitment to protecting industry interests over and above protecting public health’.

Her case is expected to be listed for a full High Court Hearing in the spring.

Sam Bond

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie