Two year ban on neonicotinoid pesticides proposed to protect bees
A two year ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on crops attractive to honeybees, proposed by the Commission in January, has prompted a strong response from the agricultural, agro-chemical and seed industries. The ban would affect the sale and use of seeds treated by plant protection products containing imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothiniadin.
Over 80 per cent of Europe’s crops and vegetables depend on pollination from honeybees alongside wild pollinators and insects. Honeybee colonies have been in steep decline in the EU since the mid 1980s, with two colonies in ten having disappeared on average and greater losses experienced in hot spot areas. The effects of neonicotinoid pesticides, alongside habitat loss and pests affecting bees, are of increasing concern and several Member States, including France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia, have already suspended some of their uses.
The Commission’s proposal for a two year ban followed the release of the official risk assessment of the effect of these substances on bee populations by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on 16 January. This established a ‘number of risks’ and its findings reinforced the risks highlighted in a range of scientific papers in 2012. The partial ban has been proposed in keeping with the precautionary principle in relation to situations where considerable environmental or health risks might appear, as enshrined in the EU Treaty and in Regulation 1107/2009 (on the placing of plant protection products on the market). According to the Regulation, any approved plant protection substances should ‘have no unacceptable acute or chronic effects on colony survival and development’.
Whilst environmental NGOs welcomed the news as ‘the death knell for one of the chemicals most frequently linked to bee decline’, agricultural, agro-chemical and seed industries have mounted a campaign against any EU-wide restrictions, claiming that the ban will lead to significant socio-economic costs. The industry’s arguments are based on the findings of a study carried out by the Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture (funded by two major neonicotinoid producers Bayer Crop Sciences and Syngenta). It estimates that over 5 years the cost to the industry could amount to €17 billion and put 50,000 jobs at risk. The study also claims the ban would lead to indirect land use change (ILUC) of three million hectares, the amount of land that they estimate would need to be converted to agricultural use outside the EU to make up for yield losses within the EU, leading to significant additional CO2 emissions. These findings have been criticised as overly extreme by many, including the The Joint Research Center (JRC). Not only are the figures based on modelling a complete ban of all neonicotinoids, rather than the partial ban proposed, but they also assume no increase in production on existing agricultural land globally, which is unrealistic and yield much higher figures than any known modelling results for ILUC effects caused by crop based biofuel production. The calculations in the Humboldt study also do not appear to take into account that some of the pest pressures currently controlled by neonicotinoid pesticides could be reduced by changes in farm management, for example by introducing crop rotations. Such changes in management are considered in the study solely as an economic constraint, with no reference made the potential benefits of rotations to soil fertility, improved soil and pest resilience and to farm productivity over the medium and long term.
Next steps: There will be a vote by Member States on 25 February in the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. This committee has a major regulatory role and this vote is likely to steer the Commission’s final decision. The goal is to have a new Regulation passed by 1 July 2013 to suspend the use of the three neonicitinoid pesticides for the next two years.
11 Feb 2013