BRUSSELS, Belgium, April 29, 2013 (ENS) – The European Commission will restrict the use of three neonicotinoid insecticides harmful to bees, imposing the world’s first continental ban on the popular chemicals.
The proposal restricts the use of three neonicotinoids – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam – for seed treatment, application of granules to the soil and foliar treatment on bee-attractive plants and cereals.
The Commission’s action is a response to a European Food Safety Authority’s scientific report in January which identified “high acute risks” for bees in dust and pollen contaminated with the pesticides as partly responsible for the recent steep decline in bee populations.
The Commission is taking action even though the 27 EU Member States did not reach a qualified majority, either in favor or against, in an Appeals Committee vote on the Commission’s proposal to restrict the use of the three insecticides.
Tonio Borg, Health and Consumer Commissioner, said, “Although a majority of Member States now supports our proposal, the necessary qualified majority was not reached. The decision now lies with the Commission. Since our proposal is based on a number of risks to bee health identified by the European Food Safety Authority, the Commission will go ahead with its text in the coming weeks.”
Borg said, “I pledge 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.”
The vote in the Appeal Committee was close to a qualified majority, which is achieved if a decision is supported by 55 percent of Member States, including at least 15 of them, representing at the same time at least 65 percent of the European Union’s population.
Of the 27 EU Member States, 15 supported the restriction, eight voted against and four abstained during the Appeal Committee vote.
The UK, which abstained in a previous vote in March, was criticized for switching to a “no” vote today.
The European Food Safety Authority’s scientific report found that bees face “high acute risks” to dust in several crops such as maize or corn, cereals and sunflowers, to residue in pollen and nectar in crops like oilseed rape and sunflower and to sap on the leaves of corn plants.
The restrictions will apply from December 1, 2013.
The remaining authorized uses are available only to professionals. Exceptions will be limited to the possibility to treat bee-attractive crops in greenhouses and in open-air fields only after flowering.
Almost all of the oilseed rape grown in Europe is treated with imidacloprid at the time the seed is planted. When the seed sprouts, it absorbs the poison and distributes it to every part of the growing plant. The toxic emerges in the nectar and pollen, which is harvested by bees. A minute dose in the nectar and pollen causes bees to become disoriented, unable to forage or fly.
Many beekeepers believe imidacloprid to be the cause of the decline in bee populations, but some scientists say that while imidacloprid is highly toxic to bees if used on foliage, especially during flowering, it is not considered a hazard to bees when used as a seed treatment.
Environmental groups praised the decision to restrict the insecticides, which they are convinced are linked to bee decline.
Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton said, “This decision is a significant victory for common sense and our beleagured bee populations.
“Restricting the use of these pesticides could be an historic milestone on the road to recovery for these crucial pollinators,” Pendleton said. “Ministers must now help farmers to grow and protect crops, but without relying so heavily on chemicals – especially those linked to bee decline.”
Through its Bee Cause campaign Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland is supporting individuals to make changes in their gardens and communities to help bees, and is asking the UK government to commit to a national Bee Action Plan.
Hundreds of home and garden retailers have removed products containing the three neonicotinoid insecticides from their shelves following a campaign by Friends of the Earth’s Bee Cause campaign.
Friends of the Earth Germany and Friends of the Earth Austria are also campaigning to ban pesticides which harm bees.
More than 2.63 million people have signed a petition organized by campaign group Avaaz calling on EU decision-makers to immediately ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides and to act urgently with precaution now, to save bees from extinction.
Thiamethoxam is manufactured by the Swiss company Syngenta; and imidacloprid and clothianidin are manufactured by the German company Bayer. Both companies have been lobbying politicians to vote against banning the chemicals.
Syngenta today said the Appeals Committee decision should compel the Commission to return to the negotiating table rather than force through a ban.
Syngenta Chief Operating Officer John Atkin, said, “The European Commission has again failed to win the necessary support for its proposed ban on this vital technology. The proposal is based on poor science and ignores a wealth of evidence from the field that these pesticides do not damage the health of bees.”
“Instead of banning these products,” he said, “the Commission should now take the opportunity to address the real reasons for bee health decline: disease, viruses and loss of habitat and nutrition.”
The proposed ban was triggered by a hurried and highly theoretical review by the European Food Safety Agency, said Syngenta. The agency “made fundamental mistakes including a serious over-estimation of the amount of pesticide bees are exposed to in the field” and “ignored key studies and independent monitoring, including recent data from the UK Government, which found no evidence that neonicotinoids impact bee health.”
Commissioner Borg said today that as soon as new information is available, and at the latest within two years, the Commission will review the conditions of approval of the three neonicotinoids to take into account relevant scientific and technical developments.