European Union agrees to ban on bee-harming insecticides

The European Union has announced a ban on three widely-used insecticides due to the threat that they pose to bees, although some green groups are calling for further bans on other chemicals.

The majority of European governments have back the European Commission’s plan to ban three insecticides from open-field use. Expected to come into force by the end of 2018, the ban will prohibit the use of Bayer’s imidacloprid and clothianidin, and Syngenta’s thiamethoxam chemicals in open fields, although they can still be used in greenhouses.

The insecticides, known as neonicotinoids, have been in use for more than 20 years and have been linked to serious harm in bees. Some bee species are thought to have declined by up to 30% in the last 20 years due to the use of neonic pesticides on plants and crops. 

Nations in favour of the ban represent 76% of the EU population, although Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Denmark opposed the vote. Poland, Belgium, Slovakia, Finland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia and Lithuania all abstained from voting, while the UK was one of the 16 nations supporting the ban.

Responding to the announcement, Friends of the Earth’s bee campaigner Emi Murphy said: “This a major victory for science, common sense and our under-threat bees. The evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides pose a threat to our bees is overwhelming.

“It’s great news that Michael Gove listened to the experts and backed the ban – he must now give farmers the support they need to grow food without bee-harming pesticides. Neonicotinoids are not the only threat bees face – ministers must urgently step up efforts to boost nature, protect wildlife-friendly habitats and tackle overreliance on pesticides in their post-Brexit farming policy.”

Tip of the iceberg 

More than 16,000 people have joined Friends of the Earth’s online petition to encourage UK retailers to ban the use of select pesticides. A recent UN report argued that it was a myth that pesticides are essential to feed a fast-growing population, while a YouGov survey found that more than three quarters of UK citizens oppose the practice.

In May 2017, B&Q became the first UK home improvement retailer to announce a total ban on plants grown using neonicotinoids. Commenting on the announcement, the firm’s market director Steve Guy welcomed the decision.

 “We absolutely welcome this new EU legislation,” Guy said. “Back in 2017 we worked in conjunction with our growers to come up with a plan which saw B&Q become the first major retailer to take this important step. We’ve seen a brilliant response from consumers since we made this announcement – people really seem to understand just how important it is to support bees in their nature habitat.”

“We believe this new legislation will make an enormous difference to the population of bees in the UK. The public can support them themselves by planting flowering pollinators in their gardens and using products which support nature, like our new Safe By Nature plant feed – a plant food made from natural ingredients to give the right balance of nutrients to grow strong, healthy roots and abundant fruits to be proud of.”

Earlier this year, an assessment by the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) found that most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides act as a risk to wild bees. Notably, four neonicotinoids currently authorised in the EU – acetamiprid, thiacloprid, sulfoxaflor and flupyradifurone – and other insecticides, like cypermethrin, deltamethrin and chlorpyrifos are all still widely used by farmers.

In response, Greenpeace believes that a wider ban on chemicals should be introduced to stop farmers replacing banned chemicals with permitted alternatives that could be just as harmful.

Greenpeace’s EU food policy adviser Franziska Achterberg said: “This is great news for pollinators and our wider environment, but there was never any question that these three neonicotinoids had to go. Now the EU must make sure that they are not simply swapped with other harmful chemicals.

“These three neonicotinoids are just the tip of the iceberg – there are many more pesticides out there, including other neonicotinoids, that are just as dangerous for bees and food production. Governments must ban all bee-harming pesticides and finally shift away from toxic chemicals in farming.”

Matt Mace

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