01 May 2018 --- The European Union has agreed on a total ban on the most widely-used insecticides from farmers fields. The move is designed to protect the dwindling populations of wild and honeybees that are crucial for crop pollination.
The neonicotinoid ban – covering imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam insecticides – has been approved by Member States and is anticipated to come into effect by the end of this year. It means that these chemicals cannot be used in fields because of the severe risk they pose to bee populations and instead can only be used in closed greenhouses.
A serious decline in bee populations across Europe has been blamed on the use on neonicotinoids and this latest restriction follows the previous EU ban on the use of neonicotinoids on flowering crops, like oilseed rape, five years ago.
A European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report earlier this year found that the high risk to bees, both honeybees and wild bees, came from any outdoor use as the pesticides can contaminate soil and water which leads to the pesticides being present in crops and wildflowers.
And last year, high concentrations of neonics was found in honey from North America, Asia and Europe, according to a study published in the leading scientific journal Science by an interdisciplinary team from the University of Neuchâtel and the Botanical Garden of Neuchâtel, Switzerland.
Three-quarters of the honey produced throughout the world contain neonicotinoids (neonics) – a class of pesticides known for their role in the decline of bees and their harm to a large number of non-target species. The measured concentrations of neonics are, however, below the maximum authorized levels for human consumption.
“The commission had proposed these measures months ago, by the scientific advice from EFSA. Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production and the environment,” says Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety.
Campaigners like Greenpeace and Europe’s Pesticide Action Network hail Europe’s move towards the ban as a great success and the campaign has received widespread public support over many years.
But German multinational Bayer says its bad for Europe’s farmers and takes “European farming in the wrong direction.”
“The decision by the EU Member States to restrict the use of certain neonicotinoids to applications in permanent greenhouses is a bad deal for the European agricultural sector and the environment, and one that will not improve the lot of bees or other pollinators,” says a company statement.
“The decision will further reduce European farmers' ability to tackle important pests, for many of which there are no alternative treatments available.”
Bayer says that it remains convinced that the restrictions are not warranted, because neonicotinoids are safe when used by the label instructions.
“Even under the extremely conservative evaluation criteria of EFSA, the most recent bee risk assessment reports did not find high risks for many neonicotinoids uses where a definitive risk conclusion could be drawn; in those cases, only low risks were found for honey bees, and for wild bees the risk was also found to be low in the majority of cases.”
“Bayer is surprised that, once again, legislative measures are being implemented without a prior thorough impact assessment. Beyond the costs for European farmers, the restrictions in place have already brought considerable unintended consequences: a lack of alternative solutions; more spray applications, leading to more CO2 emissions; an increased risk of resistant pest insects; and a return to older, less-effective chemicals.”
Meanwhile, Greenpeace is pleased with the EU decision but claims there is still a threat of farmers swapping the prohibited neonicotinoids for other harmful chemicals and wants to see more action taken to protect bee populations.
Martin Dermine, PAN Europe’s Health and Environment Policy Officer said that authorizing neonicotinoids during a quarter of a century was a mistake which led to an “environmental disaster.”
“This vote is historic. A majority of Member States gave a clear signal that our agriculture needs a transition. Using bee-killing pesticides cannot be allowed anymore and only sustainable practices should be used to produce our food,” he said.
France, Germany, Spain, Slovenia, Estonia, Cyprus, Italy, the UK, the Netherlands, Austria, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK all voted in favor. The Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary and Romania opposed, while Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland abstained.
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