DEFRA it is to appeal against a recent High Court ruling which said the government had not done enough to protect rural residents from exposure to pesticides.

The verdict was reached in November, following a seven-year battle by anti-pesticide campaigner Georgina Downs.

The court ruled that the current system for authorising pesticides in the UK does not comply with the relevant EU Directive.

One implication is that farmers may have to set up buffer strips near rural housing and give rural residents a warning before spraying.

But in a debate in the House of Lords on Tuesday (16 December), junior DEFRA minister Lord Hunt confirmed that DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn had been given leave to appeal.

“It is not appropriate for me to go into the details of that appeal,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we all want to see good practice and proportionate regulation.”

A DEFRA spokesman later said that the High Court’s decision would make it impossible to authorise pesticides for use in the UK. “This would have a very serious impact on farming and food production and would put the UK out of line with the rest of Europe.”

The spokesman added that the protection of the health of those who live, work or visit the countryside remained a top government priority.

Responding to the news, Ms Downs expressed her “absolute disgust” at the appeal and accused the government of “the utmost complacency”. “The government’s decision to appeal this decision continues to demonstrate its absolute contempt for rural residents and communities and is a disgrace,” she said.

“Heads should be rolling, following such a landmark High Court judgment, but instead it’s ‘business as usual’ with the government’s relentless attempts to protect the [pesticides] industry as opposed to the health of its citizens.”

Meanwhile, negotiations are reaching their final stage in Brussels into new rules for authorising pesticides at EU-level, using a system of hazard-based “cut-offs”.

Representatives of the EU Commission, the European parliaments and the French presidency will be locked in meetings on Wednesday night (17 December) to try and reach a compromise set of rules.

Between 14% and 23% of existing pesticides are likely to be banned, with devastating effects on some crop yields, according to the UK Pesticides Safety Directorate.