(CN) – Environmentalists in Europe seeking information about pesticide emissions won a key victory Wednesday, with the European Court of Justice ruling that pesticide companies can’t hide behind trade secrets to block access to the requested documents.
The Luxembourg-based high court’s rulings involve two cases, one involving Dutch environmentalists’ request to the European Commission for documents relating to the regulator’s approval to market the pesticide glyphosate, and the second from a Dutch bee-protection group asking for information about the Netherlands’ approval of plant-protection and biocidal products.
In the first case, the commission refused to release a draft assessment prepared by German authorities because it contained proprietary information about glyphosate. In the second case, agrichemical giant Bayer objected to the release of information to the bee-protection group on similar grounds.
Appeals ensued, leading the Dutch courts hearing the cases to ask the EU high court whether the information requested in both cases falls within the concept of “information on emissions into the environment” under EU law – which would bar glyphosate makers from relying on trade secrets as a reason to block access to the information.
In a pair of preliminary rulings issued Wednesday – only one of which is available in English – the EU high court ruled that the concept of “emissions into the environment” includes “the release into the environment of products and substances, such as plant-protection products or biocides or active substances contained in those products, to the extent that the release is actual or foreseeable under normal or realistic conditions of use of the product or substance.”
So while emissions are normally thought to be what emanates from factories and power plants, the high court said the spraying of pesticides onto plants – or runoff of such products into the soil and water – should also be considered emissions. Accordingly, information requested about such emissions should be released and EU law bars companies from relying on confidentiality or proprietary excuses to block the release, the high court ruled.
However, information about hypothetical emissions – including testing data about pesticide dosages that far exceed the maximum approved by regulators – need not be released to the public, the court ruled.
As for the case involving the commission, the high court ordered the European General Court to reconsider whether all the information requested does in fact relate to emissions into the environment and to rule on arguments made by both parties that weren’t examined by the lower court.