Parliament urges cuts in pesticide use to save Europe’s pollinators

MEPs have demanded that the Commission comes up with new measures to protect bees and other pollinators. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

In a resolution adopted yesterday, the European Parliament called on the EU executive Commission to beef up its Pollinators Initiative, saying EU-wide mandatory pesticide reduction targets are needed to halt the decline in species.

The European Commission initiative, adopted in 2018, is not enough to protect bees, butterflies and other pollinators from the many causes of their decline, MEPs said in a resolution voted in Strasbourg on Wednesday (18 December).

Intensive farming, pesticides, climate change, land-use changes, loss of habitat and invasive species are among the factors leading to the current fall in biodiversity. Since 1992, grassland butterflies and pollinators have declined by about 40%, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The European Parliament welcomed the EU Pollinators Initiative but highlighted that, as it stands, it is not sufficient to protect bees and other pollinators. To tackle the problem, lawmakers called on the Commission to present a full-scale action programme with new measures.

Speaking at the plenary session before the vote on the resolution, Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the decline of wild pollinators in the EU was “dramatic”. It means the “functioning of ecosystems, as well as our food security and well-being, are at risk,” she said.

Kyriakides also highlighted the important role and “significant opportunity” that the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) can play in scaling up action on pollinators through the inclusion of robust environmental criteria and increased support for organic farming, agroecology and precision agriculture techniques.

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).

Call for mandatory targets

In its resolution, the Parliament insisted on the introduction of EU-wide mandatory reduction targets in the upcoming revision of the Pesticides Directive. Lawmakers also called for more funds to support research into the causes of bee decline in order to protect the diversity of pollinator species.

Targets for pesticide reduction were set at 50% in a first draft version of the European Green Deal circulating one week before the Commission officially unveiled its flagship environmental plan.

But the final version of the European Green Deal communication did not mention targets, referring only to an “increased level of ambition to significantly reduce the use and risk of chemical pesticides, as well as the use of fertilisers.”

The reduction of pesticide use is mentioned in the European Green Deal as part of both the zero-pollution strategy and the new Farm-to-Fork (F2F) approach to EU food policy.

European Green Deal vague on pesticides, genetic engineering

The Green Deal presented by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday (11 December) avoided two controversial agricultural issues: genetic engineering and pesticide limits. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In April 2018, the EU agreed to fully ban the outdoor use of imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, known as neonicotinoids. However, several EU member states notified emergency exemptions regarding their use on their territory.

The Commission presented its EU Pollinators Initiative communication on 1 June 2018, heeding calls from the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers who called for  more action to protect bees and other pollinators.

The initiative sets strategic objectives and a set of actions to be taken by the EU and its member states to address the decline of pollinators in the EU and contribute to global conservation efforts. It sets the framework for an integrated approach to the problem and a more effective use of existing tools and policies. 

Pollinators are a diverse group of animals – primarily insects – that pollinate crops and wild plants. According to the Commission, around 84 % of crop species and 78 % of wildflower species in the EU alone depend, at least in part, on animal pollination.

Up to almost €15 billion of the EU’s annual agricultural output is directly attributed to insect pollinators.

In the past decades, pollinators have declined both in numbers and in diversity in the EU. 

Environmentalists call for pesticide ban as study shows extent of insect decline

Scientists have raised the alarm after a study 27 years in the making found the biomass of flying insects in nature protected areas has declined by more than 75% since 1990. The causes of the decline are not fully understood.

Multiple drivers are believed to be responsible for the decline of pollinators, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an independent scientific body.

Direct threats to pollinators include land-use change, intensive agricultural management and pesticide use, environmental pollution, invasive alien species, pathogens and climate change, according to the landmark IPBES report, published in 2017.

The Parliament resolution comes on the back of a European Citizens’ Initiative, called ‘Save bees and farmers’. The initiative, launched on 25 November, is a growing network of currently over 70 environmental NGOs, farmer and beekeeper organisations, charitable foundations and scientific institutions distributed throughout the EU who are working together to reconcile agriculture, health and biodiversity.

It aims to phase out synthetic pesticides by 2035, support farmers, and save bees and nature. If the initiative gathers one million signatures by September 2020, the EU Commission and Parliament must consider turning the campaign’s demands into law.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon and Gerardo Fortuna]

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