Europe defeats ban of pesticides linked to bee harm

A European attempt to ban widely-used insecticides linked to serious harm in bees has failed, for now.

A report by the European Food Safety Authority in January said the insecticides, called neonicotinoids, are “an acute risk” to bees feeding on flowering crops.  Some food safety officials called this “the death knell” for use of these insect nerve agents in European agriculture, and the European commission proposed a two-year suspension of neonicotinoid use.

Photo: USDepartmentofAgriculture, CCsome rights reserved

But The Guardian reports that in a vote late last week, major nations including UK and Germany failed to back the plan.

Environmental campaigners, scientists, and some politicians bitterly disappointed.

Iain Keith with the campaign group Avaaz tells The Guardian, "Britain and Germany have caved in to the industry lobby and refused to ban bee-killing pesticides."

He continued, "Today's vote flies in the face of science and public opinion and maintains the disastrous chemical armageddon on bees, which are critical for the future of our food."

Bayer and Syngenta are the two chemical companies that dominate the billion-dollar neonicotinoid market.  The Guardian spoke with Syngenta chief operating officer, John Atkin, who said: "We are pleased member states did not support the EC's shamefully political proposal. Restricting the use of this vital crop protection technology will do nothing to help improve bee health."

A Bayer spokesman described the company as a "responsible corporate citizen," and said: "The EC has relied too heavily on the precautionary principle, without taking the principle of proportionality into account."

Checking out a honeycomb, with Master Beekeeper, Ted Elk, in Hammond, NY. Photo: Julie Grant

One-third of all food crops must be pollinated by bees or other insects.  In 2006, bees made big news because so many were dying off in what’s known as Colony Collapse Disorder.

Last March, Science Magazine published two papers, linking two neonicotinoid insecticides to bee deaths. “In bumble bees, exposure to one such chemical leads to a dramatic loss of queens and could help explain the insects decline. In honey bees, another insecticide interferes with the foragers ability to find their way back to the hive.”

The U.S. has not moved toward banning neonicotinoids.  The USDA website says, “Despite a number of claims in the general and scientific media, a cause or causes of CCD have not been identified by researchers.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website, France, Germany, Italy, and Slovenia, have all put some restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids.

The European proposal would have applied across all 27 member states on corn, oil seed rape, apples, carrots, strawberries and many other flowering crops.

The ban could still take effect soon

In Friday’s vote, 13 nations voted for the ban, five abstained, and nine opposed.  There was no majority for or against.  The decision still could be appealed.  The Guardian reports that the same "hung" vote at the appeals committee would mean the EC could enforce the ban. "When member states do not want to take a decision, then the commission does it…" a source told the Guardian.


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  1. Neonicotinoids Still Legal in Europe - Bees Not Pleased | Food Politic - [...] Thirteen nations in the EC voted for the ban, five abstained, and nine opposed. Without a majority, the ban could …