Ban on insecticides close in Europe

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Syngenta and Bayer CropScience on Monday acknowledged that European Union (EU) member states for the second time failed to agree on the European Commission’s proposal for a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. The latest decision should compel the commission to return to the negotiating table rather than forcing through the implementation of a ban, the companies contend, but a ban is anticipated to take effect shortly.

Reuters (Britain) reported a ban on pesticides containing neonicotinoid active ingredients will be imposed even after the degree of disagreement that occurred in deliberation about protecting bee populations. Reports are that 15 country representatives voted against a ban, but a ban will proceed. Exactly when a ban will take effect has not been clarrified.

Some recent studies have shown neonicotinoids can have damaging effects on bee health by interfering with their homing abilities and making them lose their way. Britain and some other countries argue that the science is inconclusive and advise caution in extrapolating results from lab studies to real-life field conditions. Almost every insecticide has the potential to kill bees, but a large percentage of scientists are certain bee population decline is definitely not mainly attributable to neonicotinoids.

Experts note that one of the key difficulties in establishing the potential danger lies in how to find out how much of the pesticides the bees come into contact with as they forage, and the degree to which this might lead to fewer bees.

Many scientific studies point to a virus spread by a parasitic mite called the Varroa as a prime suspect in fuelling so-called "colony collapse disorder" which has seen bee numbers drop rapidly in Europe, Asia, the Americas and the Middle East.

Neonicotinoid pesticides are nicotine-like chemicals and act on the nervous systems of insects. They pose a lower threat to mammals and the environment than many older pesticide sprays. They can be applied to the soil, the plant or seed for planting and taken up by the plant, and, therefore, referred to as "systemic"—basically meaning they render the plant toxic to insects.

BRITAIN RESEARCH CONTRARY TO A BAN

A report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in January said three widely-used neonicotinoids, made mainly by Switzerland's Syngenta and Germany's Bayer, posed an acute risk to honeybees, and this has resulted in the EU controversy about banning the insecticides.

Britain's DEFRA published a report in January in which it said its research "did not show conclusively that exposure to neonicotinoids used within a normal agricultural setting had major effects on bumble bee colonies".

Lin Field, head of Biological Chemistry and Crop Protection at Rothamsted Research in Britain, said there is not enough evidence to support a total ban on neonicotinoids and questions whether the "precautionary principle" should apply and a ban should be imposed just in case the threat turns out to be real.

"On the face of it that might be the best solution but it takes no account of the risk of the ban on our ability to control insect pests and secure crop yields," she said.

SYNGENTA AND BAYER CROPSCIENCE

Syngenta Chief Operating Officer John Atkin said, “The European Commission has again failed to win the necessary support for its proposed ban on this vital technology. The proposal is based on poor science and ignores a wealth of evidence from the field that these pesticides do not damage the health of bees. Instead of banning these products, the commission should now take the opportunity to address the real reasons for bee health decline: disease, viruses and loss of habitat and nutrition.”

The proposed ban was triggered by a hurried and highly theoretical review by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA). It made fundamental mistakes including a serious over-estimation of the amount of pesticide bees are exposed to in the field. It also ignored key studies and independent monitoring, including recent data from the UK Government, which found no evidence that neonicotinoids impact bee health.

Bee health decline is among the biggest challenges facing agriculture. Syngenta again called on the European Commission to broaden efforts to tackle the real causes of bee health decline. Both Syngenta and Bayer CropScience have launched bee health plans—Syngenta’s bee health action plan and Bayer CropScience’s  bee care program, which complements at least a decade of pollinator research by each company.

Bayer CropScience considers the decision by the Commission of the European Union to restrict the use of neonicotinoid-containing products across Europe as a set-back for technology, innovation and sustainability. Bayer CropScience observers saw that in the Appeals Committee meeting Monday, only half of the EU member states supported the commission’s proposal for the restrictions. The company believes that the plan by the Commission will not have a positive impact on bee health.

Bayer CropScience spokepersons noted the need for concern about restriction of these neonicotinoids resulting in crop yield losses, reduced food quality and loss of competitiveness for European agriculture. This will have a negative impact on farmers, R&D driven ag companies, the seed industry and the food value chain.

The Bayer official statement said, “As a science-based company, Bayer CropScience is disappointed that clear scientific evidence has taken a back-seat in the decision making process. This disproportionate decision is a missed opportunity to reach a solution that takes into consideration all of the existing product stewardship measures and broad stakeholder concerns. The further reduction of effective crop protection products will put at risk farmers’ ability to tackle important pests that can severely restrict their ability to grow high-quality food.”

Bayer CropScience remains convinced that neonicotinoids are safe for bees, when used responsibly and properly, according to label instructions. The company will work together with all relevant stakeholders and authorities in the Member States to handle the complex consequences of this decision, to further support its customers.


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