Sunday

26th Jan 2020

MEPs demand harder EU rules on bee protection

  • Number of bee colonies declined by more than 50 percent in some member states (Photo: Wikipedia)

The European Parliament rejected, on Wednesday (23 October), a proposal from the European Commission and member states which maintain old guidelines for the evaluation of pesticides without ensuring protection of bees.

The vote in parliament aimed to implement higher safeguarding standards for bees and other pollinators, which were already proposed by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) in 2013.

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The resolution approved by the parliament indicated that the commission's plans were not compatible with European regulation and called on the executive body to submit a new proposal for bee protection "without delay".

According to the chair of EU parliament's environment committee (Envi), French MEP Pascal Canfin from the liberal Renew Europe group, when "opposing evaluation criteria which are far too weak given the danger that pesticides pose to bees, we wanted to ask a simple question: Are we serious about protecting the environment?".

Envi, which is leading the action, called on the commission to make full use of its powers if necessary to avoid that member states block the new proposal.

"It is unacceptable that member states oppose the full implementation of the 2013 Efsa bee guidance," the resolution adopted by the majority of MEPs said.

However, the commissioner in charge of health and food safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, published on Twitter that the decision of the parliament was "not good news for bees" because it was not easy to get the approval of 19 member states.

It was "regrettable" to be back to square one, he added.

"The parliament wants all or nothing, but the member states do not want all," a commission spokesperson also said.

According to the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) spokesperson on environment, Peter Liese, "the current proposal is not good enough. The commission must propose a new plan, based on the latest scientific and technical knowledge".

The bee risk assessment guidance of 2002, which is still applicable, is based on "outdated science", Franziska Achterberg, EU food policy director at NGO Greenpeace, also said.

Save the bees

Pollinating insects, mainly bees, play a crucial role in the ecosystem through maintaining plant biodiversity and contributing to global food security.

The European association BeeLife European Beekeeping Coordination told EUobserver that the decision of the parliament "shows that there is a strong political will to improve the protection of bees in Europe, and it will soon need to materialise".

The European honeybee is one of the most important pollinators and contributes to crop growth worldwide.

The EU produces about 250,000 tonnes of honey per year, with Romania, Spain, and Hungary being the leading producers followed by Germany, Italy, and Greece.

The beekeeping sector is an integral part of European agriculture with more than 600,000 beekeepers across the continent.

However, their number has been falling for years.

According to the European Parliament, the number of bee colonies has declined by more than 50 percent in some member states.

Besides pathogens and parasites, one of the biggest threats to honeybees is the common exposure to pesticides used in agriculture.

Dangerous pesticides

In 2013, the EU approved five neonicotinoid insecticides - clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, acetamiprid, and thiacloprid - as active substances for protecting plants.

However, the use of three of them - clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam - was banned since 2018, based on the bee protection assessment released by Efsa in 2013.

With the resolution adopted on Wednesday, the parliament rejected the proposal of the commission, which would turn a small part of that assessment into legislation, without improving the overall protection of bees.

Earlier this week, member states endorsed Efsa's proposal to withdraw the use of thiacloprid insecticides from the EU, deciding not to renew their approval for a product made by German firm Bayer, over concerns on risk to human and honeybee health.

The proposal passed by the European Commission's Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed will be formally adopted later in autumn.

However, farmers will not be able to use this type of insecticide, sold under brands Calypso and Biscaya, after April 2020, when the current license expires.

Meanwhile, Acetamiprid insecticides have not been banned in the EU because "this active substance has a low risk for bees," Efsa has also said.

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