The First International Conference on Agricultural Law was held jointly by the Agricultural Law Section of the International Bar Association (IBA), Project Pravo-Justice, and the Ukrainian Bar Association (UBA) on September, 23-24, 2021. This conference provided a unique review of current legal issues in agriculture, with leading European and Ukrainian experts sharing their experience on
- Land reform in Ukraine and best practices worldwide;
- Climate change, the European Union (EU) Green Deal, and sustainable development;
- Technology, agriculture, and trade;
- International trade;
- Infrastructure; and
A complimentary recording of this informative event is now available to stream. Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) is pleased to share this valuable resource with clients and friends. B&C Managing Partner Lynn L. Bergeson is the Senior Vice Chair of the IBA’s Agricultural Law Section.
By Carla N. Hutton
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have received a draft assessment of glyphosate carried out by four European Union (EU) member states and have begun to consider the findings. According to ECHA’s June 15, 2021, press release, the national authorities of France, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Sweden -- known as the Assessment Group of Glyphosate (AGG) -- examined all the evidence submitted by the companies that are seeking renewed approval to market the glyphosate in the EU. Glyphosate is currently authorized for use in the EU until December 2022.
ECHA and EFSA will organize parallel consultations on the draft report. These will be open to the public and will be held in the first week of September 2021. According to ECHA, the consultations are the first step in the assessments. ECHA’s Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) will review the classification of glyphosate under the Classification, Labeling and Packaging (CLP) Regulation. ECHA notes that chemical classification is based solely on the hazardous properties of a substance and does not consider the likelihood of exposure. Exposure is considered as part of the risk assessment process led by EFSA.
Glyphosate currently has a harmonized classification as causing serious eye damage and as toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects, prior to and following ECHA’s 2017 assessment. ECHA states that no classification for germ cell mutagenicity, carcinogenicity, or reproductive toxicity was warranted. The AGG proposal does not foresee a change to the existing classification.
Once ECHA adopts its opinion on the classification of glyphosate, EFSA will prepare a final peer review and publish its conclusions, expected in late 2022. Based on this risk assessment, the European Commission (EC) will decide whether to renew glyphosate.
By Carla N. Hutton
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) announced on March 15, 2021, that it has begun a public consultation on a draft updated Guidance on the assessment of exposure of operators, workers, residents, and bystanders in risk assessment for plant protection products (PPP). According to EFSA, the Guidance is designed to assist risk assessors and applicants when quantifying potential non-dietary, systemic exposures as part of the regulatory risk assessment for PPPs. The Guidance is based on the Scientific Opinion on “Preparation of a Guidance Document on Pesticide Exposure Assessment for Workers, Operators, Residents and Bystanders” developed by the EFSA Panel on Plant Protection Products and their Residues (PPR) in 2010. EFSA states that highlighting some inconsistencies between the approaches adopted by regulatory authorities, the PPR Panel proposed a number of changes to the practices in use (i.e., use of deterministic methods for individual PPPs; need to perform an acute risk assessment for PPPs that are acutely toxic; use of appropriate percentile for acute or longer term risk assessments). In the first version of the Guidance, issued in 2014, EFSA included several scenarios for outdoor uses, with an annexed calculator, as well as recommendations for further research. EFSA has updated the Guidance in 2021 to include additional scenarios and revise default values on the basis of the evaluation of additional evidence. To support users in performing the assessment of exposure and risk, EFSA further developed an online calculator that reflects the Guidance content. Comments on the draft updated Guidance are due May 9, 2021. EFSA will assess all comments submitted in line with the specified criteria. The relevant EFSA Panel will further consider the comments and take them into consideration if found to be relevant.
By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. Backstrom, and James V. Aidala
On February 6, 2020, Corteva Agriscience (Corteva), announced it will discontinue all production of the organophosphate (OP) insecticide chlorpyrifos by the end of the year. Corteva and its corporate predecessor, Dow AgroSciences, have been the principal global manufacturers of chlorpyrifos. Corteva announced that its decision to stop selling chlorpyrifos was based entirely on financial considerations. This announcement came on the same day that Corteva had previously agreed it would end further sales of chlorpyrifos in California, and less than a week after the date the European Union (EU) ended all sales of chlorpyrifos in member states. These actions followed a number of prior actions taken by other national and state governments to ban or severely restrict chlorpyrifos. Corteva emphasized in its public statements that the science demonstrates that chlorpyrifos can be safely used, but that the company made a business decision based on the declining markets for the product. In an interview reported by the Washington Post, Susanne Wasson, Corteva's President for Crop Protection said, “It’s a tough decision for us to make, but we don’t feel like it’s viable going forward.” In other statements, Corteva noted that in the last ten years their share of the global chlorpyrifos market had declined from 75% to less than 20%.
Chlorpyrifos has been registered for use in the U.S. for over 50 years, but has become increasingly controversial in the dozen years since the Pesticide Action Network of North America and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a petition in 2007 to cancel all registrations and revoke all tolerances for chlorpyrifos. Following a protracted court battle and a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take final administrative action concerning the 2007 petition, EPA proposed near the end of the Obama Administration to revoke all existing tolerances for chlorpyrifos. A significant basis for this proposal was a controversial decision by a panel of EPA scientists that the default tenfold safety factor established by the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) for infants and children, which EPA had previously waived based on studies establishing a threshold for acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibition, should be reinstated.
The new EPA safety factor determination was based in large measure on epidemiology studies that reported an association between exposure to chlorpyrifos at levels below the presumed threshold for AChE inhibition and adverse neurodevelopmental effects in children. Many industry scientists disputed the scientific basis for this EPA determination because confounding exposures and methodological biases in the epidemiology studies may have influenced the reported association with neurodevelopmental effects and because the EPA determination made unprecedented use of epidemiology data. Beyond the effect on chlorpyrifos, the EPA decision will likely continue to be controversial because EPA included a similar safety factor determination for all OP pesticides, even though the mechanism responsible for the reported neurodevelopmental effects attributed to chlorpyrifos has not been identified and the other OP products were not studied in the epidemiology studies.
In the first year of the Trump Administration, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt decided not to adopt EPA’s previously proposed tolerance revocation and instead to deny formally the 2007 petition, citing unresolved scientific issues. This reversal of course, however, was not accompanied by any new scientific assessment or by any explicit revision of the prior FQPA safety factor determination. Later, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) decided to designate chlorpyrifos as a Toxic Air Contaminant, a decision that was noteworthy because it was based primarily on new toxicology studies that DPR stated reported neurodevelopmental effects well below the threshold for AChE inhibition. DPR deemphasized the epidemiology data relied on in the EPA safety factor determination in its decision. Although EPA later stated that it would address these new toxicology studies as part of an accelerated registration review process, there were intervening decisions by the EU and by California to ban new sales, which may have contributed to Corteva’s February 6, 2020, decision to cease chlorpyrifos production.
The decision by Corteva to cease manufacturing chlorpyrifos reminds us that the decision to continue marketing any chemical substance cannot be based solely on the scientific data, but must also consider the regulatory climate and the economic viability of the product. For those of us with a long memory, the decision by Corteva is reminiscent of the decision nearly 40 years ago by the Dow Chemical Company to pull the plug on 2,4,5-T and silvex, after Dow had expended millions of dollars and many years of effort to contest an emergency suspension and subsequent cancellation of these herbicides. Dow made this decision even though it believed that the available data demonstrated the safety of those products.
By Timothy D. Backstrom and Kelly N. Garson
On December 6, 2019, the European Union (EU) announced that it will no longer permit sales of chlorpyrifos after January 31, 2020. The Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF Committee) voted in favor of two draft Implementing Regulations that denied the renewal of approvals for chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl. The European Commission is expected to formally adopt the regulations in January 2020. At that time, Member States will need to withdraw authorizations for products containing chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl as active substances and may implement a grace period, at a maximum of three months, for final storage, disposal, and use of the substances.
The ban in the EU follows increased concerns over the human health effects of the substances. On August 2, 2019, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a report concluding that no safe exposure level could be determined for chlorpyrifos and that based upon available data, the approval criteria under Article 4 of Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 for human health were not met. EFSA also published an updated statement reiterating the same conclusion for chlorpyrifos-methyl on November 26, 2019. EFSA’s primary health concerns were potential developmental neurotoxicity based on the available animal data and epidemiological evidence, and unresolved concerns regarding potential genotoxicity. EFSA also concluded that toxicological reference values could not be established for either of these effects, thereby precluding a valid risk assessment for consumers, workers, or bystanders.
Prior to the PAFF Committee meeting, eight EU states had already banned or never approved the use of chlorpyrifos. Canada proposed a ban of chlorpyrifos on May 31, 2019. (More information on this proposal is available in our blog post).
Within the United States, state governments have taken steps to regulate chlorpyrifos. On June 13, 2018, Hawaii passed an act that banned the use of pesticides containing chlorpyrifos as an active ingredient beginning January 1, 2019.
Several recent actions in California culminated in a ban on chlorpyrifos. First, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) decided that chlorpyrifos should be designated as a Toxic Air Contaminant. This action was based primarily on a point of departure derived from new animal studies that report neurodevelopmental effects well below the level that inhibits cholinesterase. On August 14, 2019, DPR issued cancellation notices for chlorpyrifos products based primarily on the same new animal data. DPR subsequently announced on October 9, 2019, an agreement with pesticide manufacturers to end the sale of chlorpyrifos by February 6, 2020. Growers will not be able to possess or use chlorpyrifos products in the state after December 31, 2020.
In New York State (NYS), recent efforts to ban the substance through legislation were unsuccessful. On December 10, 2019, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill passed by the NYS Legislature (A.2477/S.5343) to phase out chlorpyrifos from use by December 1, 2021. Governor Cuomo stated that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is responsible for taking regulatory action on the issue, but recommended that the agency implement its own phased-in ban of chlorpyrifos.
On the federal level, chlorpyrifos products remain registered and have been since 1965. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken measures to restrict the use of chlorpyrifos within households and on particular crops, but some non-governmental organizations (NGO) have long advocated that chlorpyrifos should be banned in its entirety. On September 12, 2007, the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a petition requesting that EPA revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for chlorpyrifos. EPA’s failure to respond fully to this petition was the subject of several decisions in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Court ultimately issued a writ of mandamus requiring that EPA take final action concerning the petition.
At one point, EPA proposed to revoke all tolerances for chlorpyrifos. This action was based in part on a controversial determination that EPA should reinstate the default safety factor for tolerance assessments under the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) for all organophosphate (OP) pesticides. This determination was based on developmental neurotoxicity associated with chlorpyrifos exposure in certain epidemiology studies. After further deliberation and a change of administrations, EPA issued an order denying the 2007 petition in its entirety on March 29, 2017, based in part on a conclusion stating that further evaluation was needed to properly assess potential neurodevelopmental effects of chlorpyrifos. EPA later issued a final order that denied all objections to the March 2017 petition denial order. A number of NGOs (including the original petitioners) and several states have challenged this decision, filing petitions on August 8 and August 9, 2019, respectively for judicial review of EPA’s final order retaining tolerances and registrations for chlorpyrifos. EPA has stated that it intends to complete its evaluation of the epidemiology studies for chlorpyrifos, as well as the new animal data relied on by California, in the context of the pending registration review of chlorpyrifos under Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Section 3(g). A final registration review decision concerning chlorpyrifos is due by October 1, 2022, although EPA has stated that it intends to accelerate that process. More information on the petitions and chlorpyrifos is available on our blog.
At this juncture, the long-term impact of the gradual accumulation of adverse decisions on chlorpyrifos from EFSA and various other governmental agencies is uncertain. Most user groups in the United States continue to describe chlorpyrifos as an essential agricultural tool. Some commodities treated with chlorpyrifos are destined for export markets where chlorpyrifos has been banned, however, and the impacts of this change will need to be monitored closely.
EPA’s interpretation of the epidemiology studies for chlorpyrifos remains controversial in the scientific community. Indeed, although the EFSA conclusion is predicated in part on these epidemiology studies that are the basis of the controversial EPA interpretation, the wording of the EFSA report indicates that there were some dissenters. Moreover, the extension of EPA’s FQPA determination for chlorpyrifos to other organophosphate (OP) pesticides has never been satisfactorily explained.
The NGOs and states that have challenged EPA’s final order refusing to revoke the tolerances and cancel the registrations for chlorpyrifos will argue that the final order cannot be reconciled with EPA’s prior scientific determinations. Even if EPA can successfully rebut those arguments, there is also a possibility that EPA’s own review of the new animal chlorpyrifos studies may obviate that controversy. On balance, the remaining manufacturers and registrations for chlorpyrifos are likely to confront a variety of challenges in the coming months.
By Kelly N. Garson and Carla N. Hutton
On September 17, 2019, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opened a consultation period on two pilot assessments of the risks posed to humans by residues of multiple pesticides in food. EFSA is seeking comments from interested parties on the assessments. The first assessment considers the chronic effects of multiple pesticides on the thyroid system. The second looks at acute effects on the nervous system.
EFSA produced the assessments in collaboration with the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment for the Netherlands (RIVM) using monitoring data from 2014, 2015, and 2016. In approving pesticides for use in the European Union (EU), EFSA establishes a maximum level of pesticide residue (MRL) allowed in food or animal feed. The MRL considers the cumulative effects of pesticides. Pesticides may only be placed on the EU market if they have no harmful effects on humans, including cumulative effects. In the two pilot assessments, EFSA classified pesticides into “cumulative assessment groups” (CAG) based upon whether they produce similar toxic effects in a specific organ or system. EFSA states that “[t]he overall draft conclusion for both assessments is that consumer risk from dietary cumulative exposure is below the threshold that triggers regulatory action for all the population groups covered.”
In 2020, EFSA will prepare the assessments in final, which will serve to “inform risk managers in the European Commission and Member States who regulate the safe use of pesticides in the EU.”
EFSA will present the assessments at a special stakeholder event in Brussels, Belgium, on October 22, 2019. The meeting is intended to allow stakeholders with expertise and interest in the area to discuss the technical issues relating to the draft assessments. Registration for the meeting closes on October 11, 2019.
All comments must be submitted by November 15, 2019. Comments on the “Cumulative dietary risk characterisation of pesticides that have chronic effects on the thyroid” may be submitted at https://ec.europa.eu/eusurvey/runner/PC_CRA_Thyroid_Sept-2019. Comments on the “Cumulative dietary risk characterisation of pesticides that have acute effects on the nervous system” may be submitted at https://ec.europa.eu/eusurvey/runner/PC_CRA_Nerv_Syst_Sept-2019.
The two draft assessments are available on EFSA’s website.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Carla N. Hutton
On June 14, 2019, Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) began a public consultation on Discussion Document DIS2019-01, “Consultation on Inspecting Confidential Test Data for Post-market Reviews in the Reading Room.” Before a pesticide can be registered for use in Canada, PMRA states that it reviews the available scientific test data to determine whether there are concerns for human health or safety, or the environment, when the product is used according to the label. Some of the data reviewed by the PMRA scientists include confidential test data on:
- Toxicology related to human health;
- Bystander and occupational exposure;
- Food residue trials;
- Environmental toxicology and fate;
- Product efficacy, crop tolerance, and benefits of the product; and
- Other scientific data or studies submitted to, or considered by the PMRA.
According to PMRA, the purpose of the consultation document is to seek input on a proposal to expand access to confidential test data by inviting interested members of the public to inspect these data at the proposed decision stage for post-market reviews such as re-evaluations and special reviews. Currently, PMRA prepares confidential test data for public inspection only after it makes a final decision. PMRA proposes to allow interested parties seeking to understand the scientific basis for a proposed re-evaluation or special review decision to inspect the data used by PMRA earlier in the process. PMRA states that by viewing these data earlier, comments submitted through the existing consultation process may be more well-informed.
PMRA notes that the proposed change would still require the inspection of confidential test data to take place at its National Head Office in Ottawa, Ontario. PMRA states that it is aware that this could be burdensome and is investigating alternative approaches for the future that may allow the inspection of data through other means, such as satellite reading rooms or secure portals. Publication of the consultation document began a 60-day comment period.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
On May 31, 2019, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) issued its Proposed Re-evaluation Decision PRVD2019-05, Chlorpyrifos and Its Associated End-use Products: Updated Environmental Risk Assessment (Updated Environmental Risk Assessment). PMRA states that this re-evaluation “considers data and information from pesticide manufacturers, published scientific reports, and other regulatory agencies” and that “Health Canada applies internationally accepted risk assessment methods as well as current risk management approaches and policies.”
PMRA is proposing the cancellation of most uses of chlorpyrifos, including almost all agricultural uses, due to PMRA’s belief that they pose unacceptable risks to the environment. The proposal would allow a small number of uses to continue if certain label changes are made. More specifically, PMRA states that its evaluation of available scientific information “has not found acceptable risks to beneficial arthropods, birds, mammals and all aquatic biota in the environment for most current chlorpyrifos uses” but “[g]reenhouse ornamental, outdoor ornamentals (container stock only) for control of Japanese beetle larvae, indoor and outdoor structural, adult and larval mosquito uses of chlorpyrifos have been shown to be acceptable from the environmental perspective.” The label changes that PMRA states would be required for these uses to continue include the following: (1) standard environmental hazard statements to inform users of the potential toxic effects to non-target species; and (2) standard environmental advisory statements for prevention of contamination of aquatic systems and to reduce volatilization.
There is a 90-day public consultation period on the proposal, which began on May 31, 2019, during which the public may submit written comments and additional information to PMRA. PMRA states that the public may submit additional information that could be used to refine risk assessments and that the final re-evaluation decision will take into consideration the comments and information received during the comment period, which could result in revised risk mitigation measures. The re-evaluation decision document will include the final re-evaluation decision, the reasons for it, and a summary of comments received on the proposed re-evaluation decision with Health Canada’s responses.
More information on chlorpyrifos issues, including California’s recent announcement that it would be initiating cancellation proceedings of chlorpyrifos, can be found on our blog.
By Lisa R. Burchi
On March 7, 2019, in the Court of Justice of the European Union (EU), the Eighth Chamber of the General Court issued two judgments in cases regarding access of confidential information related to glyphosate. One of these decisions (Tweedale v. EFSA, Case T-716/14) related to a 2014 request for two toxicity studies that were “key studies” in the determination of glyphosate’s acceptable daily intake (ADI). The second decision (Hautala et al. v. EFSA, Case T-329/17) related to a request from Members of the European Parliament for access to parts (i.e., “material, experimental conditions and methods” and “results and discussions”) of 12 unpublished carcinogenicity studies, described as the “‘most crucial’ studies for the peer review and [EFSA’s] conclusion that glyphosate is unlikely to pose carcinogenic hazard to humans.” Partial access to those studies (i.e., raw data and findings aggregated in tables and figures) had been granted in an earlier 2016 decision.
A prior November 21, 2018, case related to glyphosate (Stichting Greenpeace Nederland and Pesticide Action Network Europe v. European Commission, Case T-545/11 RENV) and the General Court/Fourth Chamber’s judgment to prevent applicants from receiving access to information on the degree of purity of the active substance glyphosate, as well as the identity and quantities of impurities is discussed here. In contrast to the Stichting decision, where access was denied, the court in the March 7, 2019, decisions annulled prior decisions dated October 16, 2017 and March 14, 2017, that refused access to the requested information.
Article 4(2) of Regulation No. 1049/2001 (regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents) provides that access to documents should be refused where disclosure would undermine, in part, commercial interests of a natural or legal person, including intellectual property, unless “there is an overriding public interest in disclosure.”
Article 6(1) of Regulation No. 1367/2006 (regarding the application of the provisions of the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters to Community institutions and bodies) provides that, with regard to Regulation No. 1049/2001 Article 4(2), “an overriding public interest in disclosure shall be deemed to exist where the information requested relates to emissions into the environment.” Recital 15 of Regulation No. 1367/2006 also provides: “The grounds for refusal as regards access to environmental information should be interpreted in a restrictive way, taking into account the public interest served by disclosure and whether the information requested relates to emissions in the environment.”
Taken together, the court stated: “that means that an EU institution, hearing a request for access to a document, cannot justify its refusal to divulge it on the basis of the exception relating to the protection of the commercial interests of a particular natural or legal person for the purposes of Article 4(2), first indent, of Regulation No 1049/2001, where the information contained in that document constitutes information which ‘relates to emissions into the environment’ for the purposes of Article 6(1) of Regulation No 1367/2006.”
The General Court/Fourth Chamber thus addressed whether the information contained in the applicants’ requests constituted information which ‘relates to emissions into the environment’ for the purposes of Article 6(1) of Regulation 1367/2006.
In the March 7, 2019, decisions, the General Court/Fourth Chamber held that EFSA cannot argue that the requested studies do not concern actual emissions or the effects of actual emissions because “an active substance contained in plant protection products, such as glyphosate, in the course of normal use, is intended to be discharged into the environment by virtue of its function, and its foreseeable emissions cannot, therefore, be regarded as purely hypothetical.” The court further held: “It is apparent from that case-law that the concept of information which ‘relates to emissions into the environment’ for the purposes of Article 6(1) of Regulation No 1367/2006 is not limited to information which makes it possible to assess the emissions as such, but also covers information relating to the effects of those emissions.” The Court further stated that the “concept of information which ‘relates to emissions into the environment’ for the purposes of Article 6(1) of Regulation No 1367/2006 must be interpreted as covering not only information on emissions as such, namely information concerning the nature, composition, quantity, date and place of those emissions, but also data concerning the medium to long-term consequences of those emissions on the environment.”
The court also found that EFSA’s “argument that the conditions in which the requested studies were carried out are not linked to emissions is irrelevant. What matters is not the conditions in which the requested studies were carried out, but their purpose.” In these cases, the purpose to define a no observed adverse effect level (NOAEL) from which the ADI was calculated, or to determine the carcinogenic effects of exposing humans to glyphosate, “must be regarded as constituting information which ‘relates to emissions into the environment; for the purposes of Article 6(1) of Regulation No. 1367/2006.”
In sum, the court in Tweedale concluded:
- It follows from the foregoing that the exception relating to the protection of commercial interests, provided for in Article 4(2), first indent, of Regulation No 1049/2001, cannot be relied upon in order to object to the disclosure of the requested studies which are regarded as information which ‘relates to emissions into the environment’ for the purposes of Article 6(1) of Regulation No 1367/2006.
The court in Hautala further stated that “an overriding public interest in disclosing the studies is deemed to exist, and EFSA could not refuse to disclose them on the ground that that would have an adverse effect on the protection of the commercial interests of the owners of the requested studies for the purposes of Article 4(2), first indent, of Regulation No 1049/2001.”
These decisions support transparency but also may add confusion regarding any limitations placed on the scope of what is to be considered “information on emissions into the environment.” The prior 2018 Stichting decision refused access to information on the degree of purity of the active substance glyphosate, as well as the identity and quantities of impurities, finding that such information is excluded from the concept of “information relating to emissions into the environment:”
- Since the use, the conditions of use and the composition of a plant protection product authorised by a Member State on its territory may be very different from those of products evaluated at EU level during the approval of the active substance, it must be held that the information in the document at issue does not relate to emissions whose release into the environment is foreseeable and has, at the very most, a link to emissions into the environment.
These decisions may expand the scope of information that relates to emissions into the environment, including, for example, “data concerning the medium to long-term consequences of those emissions on the environment.” For information that is determined to constitute information that “relates to emissions into the environment,” the decisions appear to create a presumption for disclosure that cannot be countered based on the exception relating to the protection of the commercial interests of a particular natural or legal person.
Companies should continue to monitor these decisions closely, as guidance continues to evolve regarding the scope of disclosure.
More information on glyphosate issues is available on our blog.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
On November 21, 2018, in Court of Justice of the European Union (EU), the Fourth Chamber of the General Court (General Court/Fourth Chamber) issued a judgment in the appeal case T-545/11 RENV that denied all three pleas on appeal and prevented applicants Stichting Greenpeace Nederland and Pesticide Action Network Europe (Applicants) from receiving certain documents containing confidential information relating to the first authorization of the placing of glyphosate on the market as an active substance, specifically the complete list of all tests submitted by the operators seeking the inclusion of glyphosate in Annex I to Directive 91/414.
The judgment provides a detailed history of the case, beginning in 2010, when Applicants requested access to the documents in question. In this initial case, the Secretary General of the Commission agreed with the Federal Republic of Germany’s decision to refuse access to the documents (contested decision) on the basis that disclosure in Article 4(2) of Regulation No. 1049/2001 would undermine protection of the commercial interests of a natural or legal person. In upholding Germany’s decision, the Secretary General found that there was “no evidence of an overriding public interest in disclosure” within the meaning of Article 4(2) of Regulation No. 1049/2001, and also that the information “did not relate to emissions into the environment” within the meaning of Article 6(1) of Regulation No. 1367/2006 concerning public disclosure of information on the environmental effects of glyphosate. As such, “protection of the interests of the manufacturers of that substance had to prevail.”
The Applicants brought an action for annulment of the contested decision to the Registry of the General Court. After one of the documents at issue (a draft assessment report issued by Germany prior to the initial inclusion of glyphosate in Annex I to Directive 91/414) was produced to the court (but still not released to the Applicants), the General Court ruled to annul the contested decision. The Commission appealed this annulment, stating that the General Court erred in its interpretation of the term “information [which] relates to emissions into the environment.” The Court of Justice was persuaded by this argument, set aside the initial judgment, and referred the case back to the General Court. The case was then assigned to the Fourth Chamber. The dispute was limited to the part of the document at issue that “contains information on the degree of purity of the active substance, the ‘identity’ and quantities of all the impurities present in the technical material, the analytical profile of the batches, and the exact composition of the product developed.”
The Applicants put forward three pleas in law in support of their action. The pleas, and the basis for the General Court/Fourth Chamber’s rejections of those pleas, are as follows:
- Failure to Take Account of the Scope of Article 4(5) of Regulation No. 1049/2001: Article 4(5) of Regulation No. 1049/2001 provides that a Member State may request an institution not to disclose a document originating from that State without its prior agreement. Applicants submitted that Article 4(5) of Regulation No. 1049/2001 does not constitute a right of veto for a Member State and that the Commission may not rely on the Member State’s opinion regarding the application of an exception provided for by Article 4(2) of that Regulation. The General Court/Fourth Chamber stated that “the argument put forward cannot succeed, since Article 4(5) of Regulation No 1049/2001 is not the basis on which the Commission refused access to that document. Consequently, the first plea in law must be rejected.” Instead, Article 4(2) was the basis for Germany’s decision, and the Commission verified that Germany’s reasons for that decision were “prima facie, well founded.”
- Overriding Public Interest In Disclosing Information Relating to Emissions Into the Environment: Applicants maintained that the exception to the right of access designed to protect the commercial interests of a natural or legal person must be waived, because of an overriding public interest in disclosure of the information requested, which relates to emissions into the environment. Specifically, Applicants argued that information related to the identity and quantity of impurities present in glyphosate and related test information must be disclosed so that it could be determined “which toxic elements are emitted into the environment and are liable to remain there for some time.” With regard to the concept of “information relating to emissions into the environment,” the General Court/Fourth Chamber rejected arguments that the provision must be interpreted restrictively to mean only direct or indirect release of substances from installations. The General Court/Fourth Chamber also found, however, that the concept cannot be interpreted in a way that would “deprive of any practical effect the possibility” that a Member State could refuse to disclose environmental information or “jeopardise the balance which the EU legislature intended to maintain between the objective of transparency and the protection of [commercial] interests.” In rejecting the second plea, the General Court/Fourth Chamber states:
Since the use, the conditions of use and the composition of a plant protection product authorised by a Member State on its territory may be very different from those of products evaluated at EU level during the approval of the active substance, it must be held that the information in the document at issue does not relate to emissions whose release into the environment is foreseeable and has, at the very most, a link to emissions into the environment. Accordingly, such information is excluded from the concept of “information relating to emissions into the environment,” in accordance with paragraph 78 of the judgement on appeal.
- Alleged Infringement of Article 4(2) of Regulation No. 1049/2001 and Article 4 of the Aarhus Convention: Applicants argued that the contested decision is not in accordance with Article 4(2) of Regulation No. 1049/2001 and Article 4 of the Aarhus Convention, on the ground that the Commission did not evaluate the actual risk of damage to the commercial interests invoked. The General Court/Fourth Chamber stated that it must be held “that the Commission correctly weighed up the relevant interests, having set out precisely and specifically the way in which the commercial interests of producers of glyphosate or plant protection products containing it would be jeopardised by the disclosure of the document at issue.”
After rejecting all three pleas, the General Court/Fourth Chamber held that the action must be dismissed in its entirety, and ordered Applicants to pay the costs relating to the various proceedings.
This case has been monitored closely because of the potential implications for companies that have submitted data or other information claimed as confidential that could be disclosed based on “overriding public interest.” The American Chemistry Council (ACC), CropLife America, CropLife International (CLI), the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), the European Crop Care Association (ECCA), the Association européenne pour la protection des cultures (ECPA) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) all intervened in support of the form of the order sought by the Commission. The decision, and, in particular, the limitations placed on the scope of what is to be considered “information on emissions into the environment” provides helpful guidance and ensures that the exceptions provided for disclosure do not swallow the general rules under which institutions must refuse access to documents.
More information on glyphosate issues is available on our blog.