French MPs yesterday (Tuesday 1 March) began their second reading of the biodiversity bill, which many hope will outstrip European standards and enforce a complete ban on the bee-killing pesticides. EURACTIV France reports.
Neonicotinoids, a controversial group of insecticides that act on bees’ nervous systems, have been in the spotlight since December last year, when a partial European moratorium on their use expired.
Widely blamed in the scientific literature for the disappearance of the most important pollinators, neonicotinoids are still in use in France and other EU countries.
In 2013, the European Commission placed a two-year moratorium on three kinds of neonicotinoids – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – which is currently being reviewed at a European level.
“The European moratorium banned certain uses for certain substances, but not others,” said the former Socialist minister of ecology Delphine Batho. “This is not good enough.”
“On an international level, we should be setting the example,” said Geneviève Gaillard, a Socialist MP and the rapporteur on France’s biodiversity bill.
France failed to enact a complete ban on the chemicals in the first reading of its biodiversity bill, but the issue was re-tabled for the bill’s second reading.
“We had adopted a complete ban on neonicotinoid substances in the National Assembly [the lower house of the French parliament] during the debate on the biodiversity bill,” said Batho.
But when this bill was passed on to the Senate, the ban was weakened. Senators chose instead to toughen the restrictions on the use of insecticides along the lines of a recommendation by the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES).
Members of the lower house planned to review this position at the second reading this week. “We submitted a new amendment signed by 52 members from the governing party,” Batho said.
Populations of wild pollinators are under great pressure across Europe. According to the MP, the number of insects is now 37% below its natural level.
Support across the political spectrum
The amendment, which enjoys support from across the political spectrum, proposed that “the use of products containing active substances from the neonicotinoid family, including seeds treated with these products, be banned from 1 January 2017”.
“The interests of farmers and bee-keepers should overlap on this subject, because 84% of EU agricultural production depends on wild pollinators and bees,” said Batho.
But despite this apparent convergence of interest, resistance to any potential ban on the pesticides is strong, “both from agrochemical lobbies and certain farmers’ unions that work hand in hand with them”, said French Green MP Laurence Abeille.
If the neonicotinoids amendment is adopted in the French parliament, it would place the French legislation well above the European standards, which only foresee a partial moratorium on these substances.
The European Commission has launched a rescue plan for Europe’s dwindling honeybee colonies.
In January 2013, it adopted a 24-month ban on three widely-used neonicotinoid pesticides that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says pose “high acute risks” to pollinators.
Around 16% of Europe’s honeybee colonies disappeared between 1985 and 2005 – with greater losses recorded in England, the Czech Republic, Germany and Sweden – according to the EU-funded Status and Trends of European Pollinators (STEP) project.
Insects such as honey bees and wild bees help pollinate around 84% of Europe’s 264 crop species and 4,000 vegetable varieties, contributing an estimated €22 billion to the EU's economy, STEP says.
The EU-funded STEP project recommends several ways farmers can protect bee populations:
- Try to avoid those pesticides known to have negative impacts on bees;
- Reduce the use of herbicides which suppress flowering plants;
- Leave uncultivated flower rich patches in farmland where pollinators can benefit from flowers and nesting resources;
- Plant mass-flowering crops (oilseed, clover and field beans) as part of rotations to provide extra nectar and pollen for bees and other insects.
- March 2016: examination of the biodiversity bill in the French National Assembly
- 1 January 2017: planned date for complete ban on neonicotinoids in France
French National Assembly
- Biodiversity bill: March 2014