A top European Union court upheld on Thursday (17 May) the ban on three insecticides blamed for killing off bee populations, dismissing cases brought by chemicals giants Bayer and Syngenta.
“The General Court confirms the validity of the restrictions introduced at EU level in 2013 against the insecticides clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid because of the risks those substances pose to bees,” a court statement said.
“Given the existence of new studies (…) the Commission was fully entitled to find that it was appropriate to review the approval of the substances in question,” it specified.
Bees help pollinate 90 percent of the world’s major crops, but in recent years have been dying off from “colony collapse disorder,” a mysterious scourge blamed partly on pesticides.
The three pesticides are based on the chemical structure of nicotine and attack the nervous systems of insect pests.
Past studies have found neonicotinoids can cause bees to become disorientated such that they cannot find their way back to the hive, and lower their resistance to disease.
Fears have been growing globally in recent years over the health of bees. Pesticides have been blamed as a cause of colony collapse disorder along with mites, pesticides, virus and fungus, or some combination of these factors.
Vytenis Andriukaitis, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, twitted that he welcomed the decision of the European Court of Justice.
— Vytenis Andriukaitis (@V_Andriukaitis) May 17, 2018
The crop industry said they respect the verdict of the court.
“We respect the verdict of the Court in all cases, even if we find it particularly unfortunate that in 2 of the 3 cases the Court decided to dismiss. There may be a cognitive ease to blaming pesticides for affecting bee health, but experts, including the Commission itself, have acknowledged that it can be influenced by multiple and complex factors,” Graeme Taylor from the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) told Euractiv.
“We will continue our efforts as an industry to strengthen biodiversity and ensure honey bees and other pollinators can continue to play a vital role in agriculture,” he said.
Greenpeace EU food policy adviser Franziska Achterberg said the ruling “sets the EU’s priorities straight – its primary duty is to protect people and nature, not company profit margins”.
“It’s an indictment against corporate bullying that should spur the Commission to act on other dangerous pesticides without fear of being challenged in court,” she said in a statement.
The European Commission decided on 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 used 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 on a scientific assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which recently re-confirmed that neonicotinoids pose a risk to bees.
In an assessment published on 28 February, the EU food safety watchdog re-assessed data from 2013 of the three neonicotinoids, clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam.
Its main conclusion was that most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides represent a risk to wild bees and honeybees.
“There is variability in the conclusions, due to factors such as the bee species, the intended use of the pesticide and the route of exposure. Some low risks have been identified, but overall the risk to the three types of bees we have assessed is confirmed,” said Jose Tarazona, head of EFSA’s Pesticides Unit.
Commenting on the risks found in the report, an EFSA spokesperson told EURACTIV at the time of the new assessment’s release that bees could be exposed to neonicotinoids in multiple ways, depending on the use of the pesticide.
“The conclusions on risk reported in the reviews varied according to factors such as the bee species, the intended use of the pesticide and the route of exposure (residues in bee pollen and nectar; dust drift during the sowing/application of the treated seeds; and water consumption),” the EFSA official said.
“However, taken as a whole, the conclusions confirm that neonicotinoids pose a risk to bees.”