Pressure mounts on Commission to put neonics ban to a vote

EURACTIV has learned that the German government has no position as the ministries of agriculture and environment disagree. The ministry of agriculture backs a “kind of exemption” for sugar beet. [Shutterstock]

EU lawmakers have urged the European Commission to convince member states to back its proposal to ban neonicotinoids and avoid further delays that will be harmful to bees and the environment.

MEPs from the main groups in the European Parliament co-signed a letter on March 20 to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis.

In their letter, the MEPs urged the Commission to avoid another delay to a planned ban on neonics at the next Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed meeting (SCOPAFF) on 22 March, saying that this would be damaging to bees and the environment.

“Further delay in taking the decision will result in a continuous exposure of bees and other pollinators to toxins that kill them, with severe consequences for food production, particularly honey,” the MEPs warned.

The EU lawmakers also urged the Commission to do “its utmost” to ensure the necessary qualified majority of member states to back a ban.

The Commission tried to put the ban issue to a vote last December but governments stressed they wanted to see the EFSA report first.

Six member states oppose a ban on neonics, including Romania and Hungary, while France, the UK, Ireland, Croatia, Slovenia, Luxembourg and Malta are in favour.

On 28 February, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a report re-confirming that most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides- three neonicotinoids: Bayer’s clothianidin and imidacloprid and Syngenta’s thiamethoxam- represent a risk to wild bees and honeybees.

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).

“Last December the member states wanted to wait until EFSA’s report. Now that the report is out we will discuss at the next SCOPAFF meeting,” EU sources told EURACTIV.com.

On its website, the executive says that the EFSA conclusions will be discussed as well the current proposals of the Commission to further restrict the uses.

“We cannot force the member states to vote if they want to discuss […] the EFSA conclusions strengthened the scientific evidence of the Commission’s proposal,” the EU sources pointed out.

The Commission will also explore the possibility of “minor and not dramatic changes” to its proposal if needed, EURACTIV has learned.

It is clear that the Commission does not have the necessary qualified majority to put the issue on a vote. The next SCOPAFF meeting will be held at the end of May.

The German government has stressed that 200 tonnes of neonicotinoid pesticides were sold in 2013, 207 in 2014 and 203 in 2015.

“Unfortunately, this is not for each substance separately but for acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam together. It would appear that the restricted substances were replaced with others that have not been restricted,” Franziska Achterberg, Greenpeace EU’s food policy adviser, told EURACTIV.com.

EURACTIV has learned that the German government is internally divided and has not reached a position.

The ministries of agriculture and environment disagree on the issue as the ministry of agriculture backs a “kind of exemption” for sugar beet.

This confirms EU beekepers’ claim that the sugar beet industry is intensively lobbying in the member states to delay a ban on neonics.

Commenting on the MEPs letter, Graeme Taylor, director of public affairs of the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), said, “It’s worth pointing out that the European Parliament voted against an amendment in plenary to ban the sale and production of neonics a few weeks ago in an apiculture report.”

Seven MEPs who signed the letter voted against the ban in the apiculture report; Guillaume Balas, Maria Grapini, Theresa Griffin, Virginie Rozière, Kathleen Van Brempt from the S&D,  Ivica Tolić from the EPP and Nedzhmi Ali from ALDE).

Following the publication of this article, MEPs Guillaume Balas, Virginie Rozière and Kathleen Van Brempt from the S&D contacted EURACTIV and stressed that they had already voted in favor of the article 32 of the legislative report, which was about a neonicotinoids ban.

They also made it clear that they voted against an amendment tabled by the far-right National Front about a neonics ban, which was already voted in the report. “This is often the case with the amendments tabled by this party,” they said.

“For many years, we have been fighting neonicotinoids and their devastating effects on biodiversity,” the MEPs emphasised.

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