A widely-used method of pesticide seed treatment in the EU may be causing European bee populations to decline, according to a report released today (16 January) by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
At the same time, an industry report released yesterday concluded that banning the pesticides would cost the EU economy €17 billion. The report concludes that seed-coating with the neonicotinoid insecticides Imidacloprid, Thiamethoxam and Clothianidin poses a high risk to bees from crops producing nectar and pollen such as sunflowers, oilseed rape and cotton. Bees are a central part of the pollination process, and are therefore closely watched by experts who fear a disruption could have severe effects on biodiversity.
EFSA was tasked by the European Commission's health department to review the risks of neonicotinoids after a series of reports, including one conducted by Austria's environment agency for the European Parliament, recommended that the insecticides be banned.
Anti-pesticide NGO PAN Europe called on Tonio Borg, the new European commissioner for health and consumer policy, to immediately propose to withdraw the neonicotinoids from the EU market in response to the EFSA report. “Legally Mr Borg has no other option since the pesticide [EU law] requires good evidence that no unacceptable effects for bees are posed,” said the group's honeybee project co-ordinator Martin Dermine. If no ban is proposed the group will consider taking the Commission to court.
The pesticide industry said that there is still too much uncertainty in the scientific data to be imposing a ban or restrictions. According to Friedhelm Schmider, director-general of the European Crop Protection Association, the loss of these products would set European agriculture back years (see below). “Restricting neonicotinoid pesticides on the basis of potential risks will do nothing to improve overall bee health but would do enormous damage to farming and food production in Europe,” he said.
An industry-backed study released yesterday found that a ban would cost €17 billion over a five-year period and lead to the loss of over 60,000 jobs. It could also cause yields for some crops such as maize, sugar beet, barley and winter wheat to fall by 20-40%, according to the report.
The European Commission will initiate discussions with member states on the issue next week. On Wednesday (23 January), the European Parliament's environment committee will discuss the results of the Austrian report. Several member states such as France have already banned the use of some neonicotinoids