Bee activist: EU ban on neonicotinoids undermined by national derogations

Bee

Honeybees are slowly rebounding in some American states. Pennsylvania, 2014. [Peter/Flickr]

The European Commission’s 2013 decision to ban some neonicotinoid insecticides is not working, as some member states have provided derogation for their farmers, says Martin Dermine.

Martin Dermine is honeybee project coordinator at PAN Europe, an NGO which is working to replace harmful pesticides with ecological alternatives. Dermine answered questions by EURACTIV’s Henriette Jacobsen. 

In 2013, the Commission banned some neonicotinoids because of their suspected harmful effect on bees. One year on, how is this ban working?

The partial ban on neonicotinoids and fipronil was a fantastic victory for the environment, even though we would have liked to see a full ban on these bee-harmful chemicals. From the information we have, the ban is properly applied by member states. Unfortunately, several member states, such as Finland, Romania, Germany, Latvia and Estonia have provided derogations to their farmers to keep using neonicotinoids on certain major crops. This annihilates the benefit of the ban for bees.

What kinds of derogations did the ban leave for the pesticide industry?

Member states provide 120 days derogations for forbidden pesticides on a regular basis, in response to a request from farmers, or the pesticides industry.

European pesticide regulation clearly states that derogations can be given where no alternative exist, but member states do not actually respect this principle. For instance, in 2014, Romania provided a derogation for the use of thiamethoxam on maize, whereas Italy has banned its use since 2008, and has shown that it did not reduce yields. Furthermore, non-toxic alternatives exist on the market.

PAN Europe has said that the provision of derogations by member states is not being done in a transparent way. What do you mean?

Indeed, it is very difficult for us to obtain information on derogations. When a member state provides a derogation, it has to report it to the European Commission.

This derogation is being discussed with all EU member states in the Standing Committees and the Commission is supposed to verify that the EU legislation is respected. This is done in a non-transparent way. Standing Committees meetings are not open to the public. In order to obtain information on derogations, we have to wait for the publication of the summaries of the meetings of the Standing Committees six months later. Far after the 120 days of derogation are over!

We have already asked DG SANCO to automatically publish on its website the list of derogations that are provided by member states, but they did not do so.

How would you like to see this system improved?

We would like to see DG SANCO publish the list of derogations that are provided by member states. It should also disclose the arguments on which the derogation is based. The same should be done at the national level.

Furthermore, we believe there is no effort from DG SANCO to properly assess the derogations: Is this chemical really necessary, are there any reasonable alternatives, etc.? Why would Romania need neonicotinoids on its maize, while Italy has produced maize without neonicotinoids since 2008? This creates a distortion of competition between member states.

Finally, we think the derogation system should be modified: currently a member state provides the derogation from one day to the other to its farmers, then informs the European Commission and other member states. By the time Commission would react on an abuse, the 120 days of the derogation would be over.

The Commission actually has limited power to stop these abuses. The only thing it could do is launch an infringement procedure before the European Court of Justice. We believe member states should ask DG SANCO for authorisation before they provide derogations.

PAN Europe claims the Commission never goes against derogations from member states, even if these are illegal. Can you please give examples?

In its letter to the Commission, Finland clearly mentioned that there was an alternative to the use of thiamethoxam on oilseed rape: the use of pyrethroids. In this case, DG SANCO would not even have had to make any investigation. Finland disclosed from the beginning it was not respecting the rules. DG SANCO could have directly started an infringement procedure.

The situation is a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand, DG SANCO has worked hard to obtain this partial ban, and on the other, they do not react to abuses on neonicotinoids derogations.