20th Mar 2018

EU to ban bee-killing pesticides

  • European Commission is set to impose a temporary ban on pesticides thought to kill off bees (Photo: Brad Smith)

The European Commission will push ahead with its original plan to place a two-year ban on pesticides thought to kill bees.

Tonio Borg, the EU commissioner for health, pledged in Brussels on Monday (29 April) “to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over €22 billion annually to European agriculture, are protected.”

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The Brussels executive will propose a text in the coming weeks to restrict the use of three neonicotinoids: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam.

Restrictions will start on 1 December but with exceptions in place for bee-attractive crops in greenhouses and in open-air fields only after flowering. The commission will review the ban after two years.

The majority of European food crops depend on insect pollination.

But beekeepers have reported a large decline in the bee population over the past ten to 15 years.

Western Europe is particularly affected, says the commission, with colony losses spotted in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain.

A study by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in January said the three pesticides were probably toxic to bees.

Most member states agreed with the EFSA assessment but were unable to come to a qualified majority needed in March for the commission to launch its ban.

A second round of votes on Monday also failed to get a qualified majority, but the indecision among member states for a second time means the commission is now able to push ahead with the ban anyway.

According to environmental NGO Greenpeace, France, Germany, Spain and 12 other countries voted Yes. But Italy, the UK and six others voted No, while four countries, including Finland and Greece, abstained.

Global campaign organisation Avaaz had campaigned for the ban for the past two years and managed to obtain some 2.6 million signatures.

The group says the civil society pressure helped turn around Spain and Germany which both opposed the ban. Germany had abstained from voting in the first round in March but now voted for it.

“Thankfully, some of the reticent EU governments responded to pressure from civil society and EU citizens by not blocking the proposals today, as had been feared following misleading lobbying from the insecticide industry,” said the Green environment and food safety spokesperson, Belgian Green MEP Bart Staes.

The news was not welcomed from pro-industry groups.

The Brussels-based European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) said independent studies have demonstrated that neonicotinoid insecticides, when used correctly, have no affect on bee populations.

“The scientific basis for such a decision is poor, as the EFSA evaluation was inconclusive and needed to address perceived data gaps to better determine the potential risks,” said ECPA president Friedhelm Schmider in a statement.

New pesticides committee begins work on EU approvals

The new European Parliament committee will try to restore citizens' trust in the procedure after the glyphosate affair. Its 30 members have some experience on pesticide issues - but different positions.

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