France debates future of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides

The EFSA has confirmed the toxicity of neonicotinoids for bees. [Col Ford and Natasha de Vere/Flickr]

The French environment agency hopes to further restrict the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. These chemicals, linked to bee colony collapse have been the subject of a European moratorium since 2013. Our partner Journal de l’Environnement reports.

In an opinion published on Tuesday (12 January), the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) called for stricter regulation of the use of neonicotinoids, a neuroactive type of pesticide linked to declining bee populations.

Following the conclusions of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) confirming the toxicity of these substances for pollinators, the European Commission issued a moratorium on three chemicals: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam.

This moratorium, which expired in December, is currently being reviewed at a European level.

>>Read: Pesticides pose risk to bees, EU watchdog says

But the scope of the original suspension was narrow: it only applied to the treatment of seeds or crops that are attractive to bees (except greenhouse crops and winter cereals) and the spraying of crops that attract the pollinators (except post-flowering and greenhouse crops). What is more, two other substances, acetamiprid and thiacloprid, were exempt from the moratorium.

According to the ANSES opinion paper, “there is no reason to lift the restrictions put in place by the European moratorium”. If Europe were to follow the advice of the document, compiled after consultation with the French ecology, health and agriculture ministries, it would even extend the moratorium to other potentially harmful applications of the chemicals.

Residual pesticides

In another publication on the collapse of bee colonies from September 2015, ANSES questioned the role of the pesticide-coated seeds used for winter cereals. “Seeding in the autumn can coincide with mild weather conditions at a time when pollinators are still active and so potentially exposed,” the organisation stated.

“Uncertainties also remain over the levels of residue that persist in the soil and to which the bees are exposed at the next flowering season (spray treatments after flowering in orchards and vineyards, the choice of crops to follow the treated seeds,…),” the authors added.

>>Read: National Front stung in attempt to ban bee pesticide

In short, even if the treatment has no immediate impact on pollinators, the strong persistence of neonicotinoids in the soil could lead to further damage to the insects’ populations. This is why ANSES “recommends encouraging farmers to plant crops that are not attractive to pollinators after the seeds treated with neonicotinoids”.

Debate in the French Senate

Even if the recommendations on new cultures are applied, “the restriction of the use of coated seeds, including for winter cereals, is difficult to implement”, according to the French Ministry for Ecology, which supports the extension of the European moratorium. “The biodiversity bill, which will be examined in the French Senate on 19, 20 and 21 January, will cover this,” the ministry added.

This parliamentary debate will place the question of neonicotinoids back in the limelight. During the biodiversity bill’s passage through the French National Assembly (the lower house of parliament) in March 2015, the Socialist MPs Gérard Bapt and Delphine Batho successfully added an amendment to completely ban the chemicals in France from January 2016. But this measure has little chance of passing in the Senate. 

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