Bayer at the CJEU on neonicotinoids. (Belatedly) of bees, ponies, sophistry and precaution.

The CJEU held (first Chamber, which includes the  CJEU President Koen Lenaerts) in C‑499/18 P Bayer Crop Science v European Commission a few months back. Here at GAVCLaw the judgment was firmly on our minds – but my analysis not yet put to paper.

The case centres around the legality of the conditions imposed by the EU for the approval of the active substances clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid (these are neonicotinoids), and prohibiting the use and sale of seeds treated with plant protection products containing those active substances. The act challenged by Bayer is Commission Implementing Regulation 485/2013 and the justification for the measures are the documented losses of honeybee colonies as a result of the use of the substances.

The application follows a tried and tested path of applicants in the chemical and related sectors. Firstly and preferably, find some holes in the (often extensive) documentary trail of preparatory and advisory paperwork relied upon by the Institutions in their measure, and claim these devastate the legality of the eventual measure. A typical example would be ‘the studies relied upon reported testing of the substances on small ponies while the eventual regulation cites concerns for both small and medium-sized ponies’. Secondly, try and tempt the CJEU into finding fault with the application of core principles of EU law (such as subsidiarity, proportionality, ultra vires, attributed powers etc) and /or EU sectoral policy (such as in particular the precautionary principle), or confuse the Court with at best esoteric but usually sophistic discussions on eg ‘new and scientific knowledge’.

The General Court had found against Bayer. Much of the appeal before the CJEU discusses the first type of arguments and, like the General Court, dismisses them.

On the suggested infringement of the precautionary principle, the Court first of all rejects that precaution cannot be relied upon until an ‘exhaustive’ scientific assessment is made: [81]: ‘an exhaustive risk assessment cannot be required in a situation where the precautionary principle is applied, which equates to a situation in which there is scientific uncertainty.’ The point is NOT that precaution does not engage with science. It does. That is also where its weakness may lie: it desperately speaks the language of data, science and numbers yet as the saying goes, “Data is like a spy – if you torture it long enough, it will tell you anything you want to know.” The point is rather (see eg [78]) that for one to have to wait for every single new potential sub-study into a sub-issue, would hand industry the golden ticket for delay tactics; [82] that studies are underway which may call into question the available scientific and technical data, is not an obstacle to application of the precautionary principle.

Bayer put essentially the same argument to the CJEU with slightly differing angles (eg suggesting that for already approved active substances, precaution must be applied to a higher threshold than for new to be approved substances) and the Court rejected them at each turn.

Update 18 February 2022 Compare nb also recently the General Court in T‑518/19 Sipcam on economic cost-benefit and the precautionary principle.

A good judgment.

Geert.

EU environmental law (with Leonie Reins), Edward Elgar, 2018, p.28 ff.

 

 

 

 

 

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