Invoking science, Europe shuts the door to neonics

The countries that voted against are Hungary, Romania, Denmark and the Czech Republic, EURACTIV was informed. [Shutterstock]

The European Commission decided on Friday (27 April) to impose a complete ban on neonicotinoids, after managing to achieve the necessary qualified majority among EU member states.

18 member states, including France, Germany, Italy and the UK, have endorsed a Commission proposal to further restrict the use of three active substances use in pesticides (Bayer’s imidacloprid and clothianidin, and Syngenta’s thiamethoxam).

The countries that voted against were Hungary, Romania, Denmark and the Czech Republic, EURACTIV was informed.

The Commission’s proposal was based a scientific assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which recently re-confirmed that neonicotinoids pose a risk to bees.

Neonicotinoids threaten bees, EU food safety watchdog re-confirms

Neonicotinoid pesticides put at risk wild bees and honeybees, crucial for pollination and reproduction of many plants, according to new assessments published on 28 February by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

EU sources explained that these restrictions go beyond the measures that have already been in place since 2013.

“All outdoor uses will be banned and the neonicotinoids in question will only be allowed in permanent greenhouses, where exposure of bees is not expected,” Commission sources said, adding that the new restrictions will become applicable by the end of the year

In an interview with EURACTIV earlier this week, the EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, said the process followed both in the glyphosate and neonics cases showed that the Commission had made “consistent decisions” based on science.

“We had evidence related to glyphosate and we made consistent decisions. Of course, our message was ‘together with member states’ and we achieved a majority vote. Now, we have evidence about challenges related to bee population and neonicotinoids are very dangerous in this field, once again we are consistent. No one can blame the Commission for being in the hands of some lobby.”

“It is a perfect example of the Commission being consistent and based on scientific evidence, procedures and rules,” Andriukaitis said.

Andriukaitis: Neonics case proves Commission is ‘consistent’ with science

No one can blame the European Commission of being in the hands of industry lobbies, as in both the glyphosate and neonicotinoids cases, it made “consistent” decisions, EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis told

Following the vote today, Andriukaitis reiterated that the EU executive had proposed these measures months ago, on the basis of the scientific advice from the European Food Safety Authority.

“Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production and the environment,” the Commissioner emphasised.

Syngenta questions EFSA’s opinion

But Syngenta, the main producer of thiamethoxam, claimed that the decision was not the “right outcome for European farmers or for the environment” and questioned EFSA’s scientific conclusions, claiming that neonicotinoids pose a minimum threat to bee health.

“What we need today, more than ever before, is for farmers to ensure the supply of  safe and affordable food – while minimising the negative impact and amplifying the  positive  effects that  agriculture  has  on  the  environment,” Syngenta said in a statement.

“The evidence clearly shows that neonicotinoids pose a minimum threat to bee health compared to a lack of food, diseases and cold weather,” it added.

EFSA, for its part, appears somewhat tired with those who selectively criticise its scientific processes according to their interests. “Take for instance the example of neonicotinoids. EFSA was praised for its work there,” EFSA’s executive director Bernhard Url told EURACTIV in an interview earlier this month.

“So depending on the outcome, we are either seen as the heroes of science or blamed as incompetent. This kind of cherry-picking does not sound very convincing to me,” Url said.

EFSA boss: EU food law overhaul ‘a big step towards transparency’

The European Commission has learned its lesson from the glyphosate controversy and is coming forward with “bold proposals” on transparency, says Bernhard Url. The raw data of all industry-funded studies related to pesticides will be made publicly available under Commission plans, he told EURACTIV in an interview.

Graeme Taylor, a spokesperson for the EU pesticide industry association (ECPA), commented: "With judgment by the ECJ expected on 17 May this is a premature, unwelcome, even if not altogether unexpected decision. It’s unfortunate that a decision has been taken to further restrict the use of substances which are of such immense importance to agriculture in Europe and that such a decision is also in direct contradiction to the conclusions from recent reports by ANSES and JRC, on the availability and viability of alternatives."

"European agriculture will suffer as a result of this decision. Perhaps not today, perhaps not tomorrow, but in time decision makers will see the clear impact of removing a vital tool for farmers, and European food production," he added.

Greenpeace EU food policy adviser Franziska Achterberg said: “This is great news for pollinators and our wider environment, but there was never any question that these three neonicotinoids had to go. Now the EU must make sure that they are not simply swapped with other harmful chemicals.

"These three neonicotinoids are just the tip of the iceberg – there are many more pesticides out there, including other neonicotinoids, that are just as dangerous for bees and food production. Governments must ban all bee-harming pesticides and finally shift away from toxic chemicals in farming.”

Greenpeace said research indicates that several other insecticides are a threat to bees and other beneficial insects, including four neonicotinoids currently authorised in the EU - acetamiprid, thiacloprid, sulfoxaflor and flupyradifurone - and other insecticides, like cypermethrin, deltamethrin and chlorpyrifos.

Martin Dermine is Health and environment policy officer at Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe), an environmental NGO. He said:  "Today’s vote is historic. A majority of Member States gave a clear signal that our agriculture needs transition. Using bee-killing pesticides cannot be allowed anymore and only sustainable practices should be used to produce our food".

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