June 30, 2004, The Guardian
FoE joy as Bayer drops legal action
Environmental campaigners have won a legal battle against a multinational company on the right to publicise the potential hazards of pesticides. Bayer has been forced to drop a court action against Friends of the Earth, in what FoE called a "humiliating climbdown". FoE believes it is an important victory in its campaign for greater openness surrounding pesticides.
FoE campaigners had obtained safety studies submitted by Bayer to the Swedish inspectorate responsible for regulating pesticides. The documents were released by the Swedish government under its "freedom of information" laws. Bayer demanded that FoE promise not to tell the public it had obtained these studies, nor how to obtain further such studies. FoE refused.
Bayer went to the high court last October to get an injunction gagging the FoE campaigners. The company, which has a global turnover of £20bn, warned it would sue FoE for damages. FoE campaigners challenged the injunction and this week Bayer withdrew the injunction and promised to take no further legal moves against FoE. A Bayer spokesman said the company wanted to protect data which "would be valuable to competitors". (by Rob Evans)
Friends of the Earth, Press Release
GM PESTICIDE "SECRETS" TO GO PUBLIC AS BAYER DROPS COURT CASE
Bayer CropScience, the multi-national agro-chemical and biotech corporation, has dropped its court action against Friends of the Earth. It had tried to prevent the environmental group from telling the public how to access safety data on pesticides - including a flagship weedkiller for use on GM herbicide tolerant crops in the UK, Glufosinate Ammonium.
Bayer started legal action when Friends of the Earth told them it had legally obtained copies of safety data from the Swedish pesticide regulator KEMI and said it was going to tell the public how they could obtain the information in the same way. The information at the centre of the row is of interest to people exposed to pesticides through work, living near sprayed fields, legal representatives and academics researching the environmental and health impacts of pesticide use.
The group told Bayer it intended to use its website to tell people how to get data from regulators around the world, including Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and the USA. Bayer had previously taken the UK government to court to stop them releasing the same information to FOE 1.
Last October Bayer applied to the High Court for an injunction to stop Friends of the Earth:
telling people that KEMI or any other regulator held Bayer's pesticide data; telling people that Friends of the Earth had obtained copies of Bayer's pesticide data from foreign regulators;
from making any more requests to KEMI or to any other foreign regulator for access to Bayer's data.
Bayer has now signed up to a settlement promising never to sue Friends of the Earth again for doing these things, and in particular not to sue Friends of the Earth for telling members of the public how to access this type of data or for requesting this type of data from regulators. 2. A web page 3 published today by Friends of the Earth gives advice to the public on how to make requests to international regulators to get copies of information submitted by the companies as part of approval applications. The web page includes a warning that the data be subject to copyright protection and intellectual property rights 4.
Commenting Tony Juniper Director of Friends of the Earth said: "This is a humiliating climb-down by a biotech bully. Bayer tried to use their massive financial muscle to prevent members of the public having access to important health and environmental data about substances that are sprayed on our food crops every day. Bayer have gone to great lengths and expense to keep their data out of the public domain but in the end were forced to cave in because our case was right." "Friends of the Earth's victory is a major step towards lifting the veil of corporate secrecy that surrounds pesticide approvals. It is an important signal to big business that we will not be silenced. It's high time the corporations making pesticides and chemicals moved into the 21st century and supported full access to information instead of resorting to bully boy tactics in the courts".
Bayer market many pesticides world wide which pose a threat to the environment and health 5. Last month, the French government banned Bayer's pesticide Gaucho because of the threat it poses to honey bees 5 until the product undergoes a further EU safety review in 2006. Other Bayer pesticides include aldicarb, one of the most toxic chemicals still approved - Bayer successfully lobbied to prevent a EU wide ban last year and continues to keep the product on the market beyond 2007. The Bayer weed killer IPU is frequently detected in rivers during the winter months and has to be filtered out from water going into public at high cost to the water companies to comply with EU drinking water limits.
Friends of the Earth has been campaigning for full access to information for many years. It argues that companies that market pesticides and other potentially toxic chemicals must recognise the public has a right to know the potential impact of being exposed to them through breathing eating and drinking. Public access is also important because it means that independent scientists can monitor the effectiveness of the regulatory process in protecting people and the environment.
Notes to Editors
1. In 2000 Friends of the Earth asked the Pesticides Safety Directorate for copies of data supporting Bayer's application to use their weed killer glufosinate ammonium on GM crops in the government sponsored farm scale evaluations. PSD eventually agreed to release the documents at which point Bayer sought a judicial review to prevent them releasing the information. After a two day hearing in May 2003, Bayer agreed to an out of court settlement which allowed Friends of the Earth to have "read-only" access to the data. In the meantime, Friends of the Earth established that copies of some of the data being denied them in the UK was available from other pesticide regulators around the world. Copies of some documents were obtained from the Swedish regulator KEMI and from the USA's EPA and also from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency.
3. Please note that the owner of the data retains proprietary rights in respect of information contained in documents obtained from regulatory authorities which also may be subject to copyright protection and other intellectual property rights (including the protection of confidential information). Making further copies, distributing or publishing the documents whether for commercial purposes or otherwise, or permitting or assisting any third party to do so, outside the terms of relevant national legislation (being the national legislation of the country in which the copy documents have been obtained or received) may give rise to criminal or civil liability.
4. Media Briefing on pesticides: Link
5 Bayer acts to keep Temik available to vegetable growers. Grower. December 11 2003 P.6.
Additional information - Friends of the Earth's proposals for access to information on pesticides available on request.