A coalition of French environmental charities on Thursday accused the French state of negligence in regulating the use of pesticides, in a landmark legal case.
The five organisations allege the French state is indirectly responsible for the sharp decline in insect, bird and other animal populations which an increasing body of scientific research shows is linked to pesticide use and intensive farming.
In a first court hearing at the Paris administrative court, the NGOs received an initial boost, with the public rapporteur suggesting judges confirm several faults on the part of the state,
The rapporteur suggested ordering the government “to put an end to all the shortcomings that we have identified and take all useful measures to repair the resulting ecological damage”.
The conclusions of the rapporteur are often — but not always — followed by the judges, and it will now be some two weeks before their final ruling.
Similar action against the French state for failing to prevent air pollution or respect its own climate change targets have been successful in recent years, with environmental groups turning to legal activism across Europe to hold governments to account.
In its complaint, the five French groups say the state has failed “with the implementation of procedures to evaluate the risks and authorisations for the commercialisation of pesticides” which have been used in an “excessive” way by the farming sector.
They cite figures showing that insect populations have fallen by 75 percent and wild birds by 30 percent in France over the last 30 years.
‘Molecules made to kill’
“As the main cause of this collapse, pesticides are authorised today after an incomplete evaluation procedure which does not enable the products responsible for the decline in insects, birds and the rest of our biodiversity to be identified or banned,” the complaint says.
The case has been dubbed “Justice for the Living” by the complainants, the NGOs Pollinis, Notre Affaire a tous, the National Association for the Protection of Water and Rivers, Biodiversite sous nos pieds, and ASPAS.
The French state, represented by the agriculture ministry, said in its written deposition to the court that the European Union was responsable for regulating pesticides and that EU law “takes defending the environment into account.”
It denied that two previous national roadmaps for reducing pesticide use since 2007, contained in plans known as Ecophyto 1 and 2, were legally binding.
The government’s position has been backed by industry lobby group Phyteis, which says that EU regulations are “some of the strictest in the world” and that there are many factors to explain the decline in insect and bird populations.
Responsible use of pesticides helped provide food security for the country and its citizens, it argues.
But Benoit Fontaine, of the National Museum of Natural History, one of the co-authors of the study showing the decline in biodiversity said: “Pesticides are molecules made to kill.”
“I hope the law will go in the right direction and say that we must be responsible in the use of pesticides,” he added.