Pesticides: Conseil d'Etat orders rules on use to be amended to protect the public more effectively

Décision de justice
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The new rules on the spraying of pesticides in agriculture, introduced by the Government at the end of 2019, were challenged before the Conseil d'État by municipalities, associations and organic farmers who deemed them insufficient and by a chamber of agriculture and farmers who deemed them excessive. The Conseil d'Etat today ordered the Government to amend these regulations within six months. The minimum spraying distances must be increased for products that are only "suspected" of being carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic, measures must be taken to protect people working in the vicinity and information must be provided to local residents before the products are used.

Since the Conseil d'État ordered in June 2019  that the rules on the use of pesticides in agriculture be amended to be more respectful of the population, the Government defined new minimum spraying distances near residential areas on 27 December 2019.  On the same day, the conditions for drawing up "commitment charters" for pesticide users, which must be approved locally by the prefect, were also specified. 

These minimum distances and the conditions for drawing up the charters were challenged before the Conseil d'Etat by associations, municipalities and "organic" farmers who deemed them insufficiently protective and by farmers and a chamber of agriculture who deemed them excessive. 

The Conseil d'Etat now noted that the use of pesticides has been regulated according to weather conditions, which is a relevant criterion.  With regard to safety distances for pesticides whose carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic effects are proven or presumed, these correspond to the recommendations of the French National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (ANSES)  , whose opinions are based on the scientific data currently available.  They take into account the hazardous nature of the substances and agricultural practices.

However, the Conseil d'Etat noted that ANSES recommends a minimum distance of 10 metres between dwellings and areas where any product classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic is applied, without distinguishing whether their effects are proven, presumed or only suspected.  It therefore considers that the minimum distances for spraying products whose toxicity is only suspected, which have been set at 5 metres for low crops such as vegetables or cereals, are insufficient.

The Conseil d'État also considered that the Government should provide for protection measures for people working in the vicinity of an area where pesticides are used, which the current regulation does not do.

Lastly, the Conseil d'État ruled that charters of commitments to use pesticides must provide information to residents and people in the vicinity of areas where pesticides are used, prior to their use.

The Conseil d'Etat thus ordered that the current regulation be amended on these three points within six months.

The Conseil d'Etat also annulled the conditions for the drafting of these charters and their approval by the prefect, as they could not be defined by a decree, but only by law, in accordance with decision no. 2021-891 QPC of 19 March 2021 of the Constitutional Council, which the Conseil d'Etat had referred to in this case.

Decision No. 415426, 415431 of the Conseil d'Etat, 26 June 2019
ANSES opinion of 14 June 2019