Page last updated at 13:36 GMT, Friday, 14 November 2008

Campaigner wins pesticide victory

Georgina Downs
Georgina Downs said she was very pleased with the court ruling

A campaigner has won a legal victory in a long-running battle with the government over the use of pesticides.

A High Court judge ruled Georgina Downs, who lives near Chichester, West Sussex, had produced "solid evidence" that residents had suffered harm.

Mr Justice Collins said a European order aimed at defending rural dwellers from possible exposure to toxins during crop-spraying had not been followed.

Ms Downs said the government "should now admit that it got it wrong".

Ms Downs, who lives on the edge of farm fields, launched her independent UK Pesticides Campaign in 2001.

It is difficult to see why residents should be in a worse position [than bees]
Mr Justice Collins

On Friday, the judge granted her application for judicial review of the policy of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Defra had argued that its approach to the regulation and control of pesticides was "reasonable, logical and lawful".

The judge said Ms Downs was 11 years old when she was first exposed to pesticide-spraying and began to suffer from ill-health, with flu-like symptoms of a sore throat, blistering and other problems.

Ms Downs argued that the government failed to cater for the needs of residents "who are repeatedly exposed to mixtures of pesticides and other chemicals throughout every year, and in many cases, like mine, for decades".

'Think again'

People were not given warnings about what was to be sprayed near their homes and gardens, she complained.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Collins 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.

"It is difficult to see why residents should be in a worse position," he said.

Crop-spraying (file pic)
Defra said the protection of human health was "paramount"

Ms Downs has collected evidence from other rural residents reporting health problems including cancer, Parkinson's disease, ME and asthma which they believe could be linked to crop-spraying.

The judge said "defects" in Defra's approach to pesticide safety contravened a 1991 EC Directive.

He ruled that the result of his judgment was that Environment Secretary Hilary Benn "must think again and consider what needs to be done".

Ms Downs said she was very pleased with the ruling.

"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."

A Defra spokesperson said the protection of human health was "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," he said.

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