Last call for bee-harming pesticides?

Bees and other pollinators are crucial for around 84% of food crops in the EU and 80% of wildflowers, yet pesticide use has contributed to a sharp decline in population numbers over recent decades. Now 86 MEPs have urged the European Commission to convince EU governments to back its proposal to extend a temporary ban on three of these controversial bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides.

Any further delay in adopting a full ban on the three neonicotinoids – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – would result in continued exposure of bees and other pollinators to deadly toxins, with severe consequences for food production and plant and animal diversity on agricultural land.

But the agenda of a much-anticipated meeting – taking place tomorrow and Friday – where EU governments could vote on whether or not to extend the ban – in place since 2013 – has so far made no mention of any neonicotinoid vote.

A previous anticipated vote on the issue failed to take place last December.

New findings published on 28 February by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) found the chemicals in clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam are a threat to wild bees and honeybees, even when used on crops that bees don’t forage on like cereals and sugar beet. A Commission spokesperson said that the EFSA report was “strengthening the scientific basis for the Commission’s proposal to ban outdoor uses of the three neonicotinoids”.

On Tuesday the French Natural History Museum and the National Centre for Scientific Research announced the results of a major bird monitoring study which showed a staggering decline of bird numbers by a third in 15 years. Neonicotinoids were cited as one of the drivers behind this shocking fall in numbers – which the researchers describe as an “ecological disaster”.

On 1 March, the European Parliament voted in favour of a ban on neonicotinoids and an EU plan to combat bee mortality, calling for the Commission and the Member States to “act on the established scientific consensus and ban those pesticide active substances, including those neonicotinoids and those systemic insecticides which are scientifically proven (…) to be dangerous to bee health”.

A letter sent by Greenpeace on 16 March on behalf of 50 other organisations warned about the serious consequences of further delaying a vote on the matter.

Eleven EU Member States have already voiced their support for banning neonicitonoids, including France, the UK, Ireland, Croatia, Slovenia, Luxembourg and Malta.

Politico Europe reported on Tuesday that polls carried out in Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany show strong public support for extending the EU neonicotinoid ban – with over 75% of people surveyed in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain in favour of a full ban.

At the same time, in January, the Commission launched a public consultation to gather views on its forthcoming pollinators’ initiative.

Leonardo Mazza, Senior Policy Officer for Biodiversity and Water at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), called on organisations and citizens to take part in the consultation which runs until 4 April. He said:

There is an urgent need for the Commission and Member States to put in place effective measures to address the dramatic decline in pollinators.  A complete ban of these harmful neonicotinoids is a no-brainer given their evident contribution to turning Europe’s agricultural landscapes into wildlife-free zones. The EU’s pesticide approval process will clearly also need to be fundamentally overhauled as the widespread use of such harmful substances shouldn’t have been authorised in the first place.