Syngenta, one of the main producers of thiamethoxam, a pesticide used to coat seeds before germination, has launched a legal challenge against the European Commission’s decision to temporarily ban the chemical overs fears it harms bees.
The Swiss seeds and pesticides producer has sought legal recourse with the European Court of Justice claiming that the EU executive had based its decision on a flawed process.
The Commission, on the advice of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), banned in April three widely-used pesticides known as neonicotinoids judged to pose “high acute risks” to honeybees in certain crop uses. Thiamethoxam, one of the neonicotinoids, is an active ingredient in Syngenta’s Cruiser seed treatment.
Announcing the legal challenge yesterday (27 August), the Swiss agriculture giant claimed that EFSA’s assessment was “inaccurate and incomplete” and that the Commission imposed the ban without the full support of EU countries.
Syngenta CEO John Atkin said in a statement: “We would prefer not to take legal action but have no other choice given our firm belief that the Commission wrongly linked thiamethoxam to the decline in bee health. In suspending the product, it breached EU pesticide legislation and incorrectly applied the precautionary principle.”
Green NGOs have hailed the EU ban, citing evidence from scientific journals that the neonicotinoids damaged the nervous systems of bees and other pollinators.
Around a third of the world’s food crops directly depend on natural pollination from bees and other animals.
Reacting to the legal challenge, which Syngenta filed on 14 August, Greenpeace spokesperson Mark Breddy said: “Syngenta continues to ignore scientific evidence that clearly links thiamethoxam and other pesticides to bee-mortality. Instead of taking the Commission to court, it should act responsibly and stop marketing its bee-killing pesticides.”
Tonio Borg, health and consumer affairs commissioner, explained that the Commission had issued only a temporary ban because eight EU member states had voted against the proposal.
"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," Borg said in a statement published on 29 April.
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.
- European Commission: Bees & Pesticides: Commission to proceed with plan to better protect bees (29 April 2013) [FR] [DE]
- European Commission: Bees & Pesticides: Commission goes ahead with plan to better protect bees
- European Food Safety Authority: EFSA identifies risks to bees from neonicotinoids (16 Jan. 2013)
Business & industry
- European Crop Protection Association (ECPA): ECPA recommends proportionate, evidence-based approach, as Standing Committee delivers ‘no opinion’ on neonicotinoids (15 March 2013)
- Copa-Cogeca: Statement on EFSA report (16 Jan. 2013)
- European Seed Association: EFSA states high level of uncertainty in its evaluations of neonicotinoids and their impact on bee health (16 Jan. 2013)
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