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.
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.
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.