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19th Jan 2021

Green Deal

MEPs vow to fight lowering of bee-protection standards

  • Bee populations have been falling for years, mainly due to intensive agriculture and pesticides (Photo: Brad Smith)

MEPs on the environment committee warned on Thursday (1 October) that they will again object to any proposal from the European Commission that lowers protection for bees and other pollinators.

Last year, 533 MEPs objected to a proposal on the assessment of the impact of pesticides on bees, after member states watered down the level of protection to include only a limited number of the recommendations made by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

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As a result, the EU Commission was forced to reassess and redraft the proposal - due to be presented in early 2021.

"If you come back [to the European Parliament] with an even worse proposal [than the 2013 bee guidance], it will be objected to again, and then nothing will change," the head of the committee, MEP Pascal Canfin, warned the EU Commission on Thursday.

Given the need for an improved risk-assessment of pesticides in the EU, the EFSA teamed up with bee experts and developed guidelines in 2013 for assessing the risks of plant-protection products for bees.

This scientific-based methodology indicated how pesticides should be tested, allowing analysis of toxicology, and both acute and chronic exposure on individual bees, as well as colonies.

However, most member states then opposed the full implementation of the 2013 EFSA bee guidance - forcing the commission to maintain only provisions that protect bees against acute exposure to pesticides.

After some seven years of postponing the application of the EFSA bee guidance, MEPs now worry that the upcoming proposal will be insufficient to reverse the decline of bee populations in the EU, as established in the bloc's biodiversity strategy.

"Given that the majority of member states rejected the progress made in the 2013 bee guidance, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that many countries will [again] give priority to get more pesticides approvals over the protection of bees," said MEP Mick Wallace.

Earlier this year, EU auditors concluded that "EU initiatives taken so far to protect wild pollinators have been too weak" - exposing legal gaps in the current pesticide legislation.

Syngenta co-produced modelling

To avoid another clash with EU countries, the commission asked the EFSA to take into consideration the feedback of member states for the review of the 2013 bee guidance.

During this ongoing process, EFSA has proposed to member states four different scientific approaches.

The majority of member states support the 'Approach 2', which is based on background mortality and a computer model, called BEEHAVE, designed to predict colony dynamics.

NGO Bee Life believes that this methodology is problematic because bees depend on the environment and climate and the variation in these parameters may mask "subtle effects that pesticides can create on populations, hiding their negative effects".

Additionally, MEPs and civil society criticised the fact that this model has been co-produced by the agriculture giant Syngenta - which has been involved in several scandals related to their pesticides.

In a letter sent to EU commissioner for health Stella Kyriakides on Thursday, NGO Pesticide Action Network said that the choice of this approach is "very worrying" since BEEHAVE is a "quite simple" model that has not even been validated with field tests.

"Commission's claim that Approach 2 is scientific is misleading. There is no evidence presented that this approach has anything to do with science and it appears to be a complete black box," they said, calling on the EU Executive to involve in the process more independent experts and the public.

However, according to the head of the EU Commissions' unit for pesticides, Klaus Berend, the outcome of the bee guidance review will probably include a combination of several EFSA approaches.

EU 'failed to protect bees and pollinators', report finds

EU auditors concluded on Thursday that EU key policies adopted to protect and halt the decline of pollinators across the bloc have been largely inefficient and called on the European Commission to better address this issue.

EU wants to halve use of pesticides by 2030

The European Commission wants to cut chemical pesticides by 50 percent in the next decade - but the definitive target will be subject to the results of a risk assessment. Green NGOs have urged their full phase-out by 2035.

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