The High Court has overturned the UK’s unilateral ban on the use of the metaldehyde molluscicide active ingredient, following a judicial review case instigated by manufacturer Chiltern Farm Chemicals. Slug pellets based on the active will be available for at least a further 18 months from the original June 2020 cut-off date.

Late last week the government conceded the judicial review claim. This means that Chiltern’s action has been successful – the December 2018 decision to revoke the existing metaldehyde authorisations and not re-register the active for future use has been quashed and is no longer in effect.

The High Court order takes the status of metaldehyde back to that of before December 19th 2018. The order confirms that the applications for product re-authorisation remain outstanding and that Defra is required to decide afresh whether to grant re-authorisation for the products or to revoke the existing authorisations, in accordance with Article 46 of the EC Regulation.
However, a Defra spokesman is on record as saying the Department “will retake the decision as swiftly as possible, taking account of the procedural points raised”.

“The decision taken by Michael Gove was deemed unlawful last week for procedural reasons,” adds AIC head of agronomy and crop protection Hazel Doonan. “AIC understands that the government intends to retake the decision as to whether metaldehyde products should be authorised in the UK according to legal requirements as soon as possible.

“Whilst the outcome means that sale and distribution of metaldehyde products will now expire on 31 December 2020, AIC members have worked to ensure that any stocks of metaldehyde were moved as required onto farm ahead of the original 30 June 2019 deadline. The new date for the storage and use of existing metaldehyde stocks will now expire on 31 December 2021, until further notification.”

Former Defra secretary of state Michael Gove’s decision to prohibit the use of metaldehyde from spring 2020 on wildlife grounds was greeted with dismay by the industry. It had worked on responsible usage for the last ten years through the Metaldehyde Stewardship Group (MSG), in order to reduce groundwater residues which were seen as the most likely reason for a ban. Despite the active being authorised in 21 EU member states, Mr Gove insisted that science supported his UK ban.

Defra’s December decision had required the sale and distribution of metaldehyde slug pellets to end on June 30th 2019, with all stocks in the supply chain to be used up or disposed of by the end of June 2020 – these dates no longer apply.

“Metaldehyde is back on the market and we’ve reverted to where we were eight months ago,” confirmed Philip Tavener, managing director of Chiltern Farm Chemicals who took the legal action to bring Michael Gove’s decision before the High Court. “The sell-out and use-up periods previously put in place no longer apply – it is business as usual. Chiltern is ensuring that supplies of metaldehyde slug pellets will be available with immediate effect from its normal distribution channels.”

Mr Tavener explains that the legal basis of Defra’s withdrawal decision required Mr Gove to form his own view on the impact of the metaldehyde products on non-target species, but he did not do so. “A few days before a hearing was due to take place in the High Court, the government conceded that its decision-making process was flawed. The decision was unlawful.”

Chiltern, one of the UK’s largest suppliers of molluscicides, disputed the environmental impact of its products on non-target species. “We have been working with the industry for over 10 years, as part of the MSG, to steward the responsible use of these products. In 2017, an enhanced MSG stewardship programme that had been approved by officials at the Chemicals Regulation Division, was launched. It introduced new buffer zone requirements while promoting reduced usage and the adoption of Integrated Pest Management techniques,” states Mr Tavener.

He adds that retaining metaldehyde in the market removes the industry’s dependency on a single slug control solution and provides farmers and householders alike with an important, reliable and trusted treatment for controlling the arable and garden sector’s most damaging pest.

The company launched its application for a judicial review in June. The MSG had applied for a six-month extension to the use-up period earlier this year, but this was turned down by Mr Gove in April.