The EU has announced that it plans to ban the most commonly used pesticides from all fields. A ban on the use of neonicotinoids on flowering crops that attract bees already came into force in 2013. However, recent reports from Efsa have shown that any outdoor use posed a high risk to both wild bees and honey bees. This also follows a recent study, showing that honey samples are contaminated across the globe by the use of neonicotinoids and the plummeting number of bees around the world.
A recent petition to ban three of the main neonicotinoids, which was set up by the group Avaaz, reached five million signatures. A spokesperson said: “Banning these toxic pesticides is a beacon of hope for bees. Finally, our governments are listening to their citizens, the scientific evidence and farmers who know that bees can’t live with these chemicals and we can’t live without bees.”
Bees and other insects are vital for food production, and pollinate an estimated 75% of all crops. The new ban on neonicotinoids has already been approved, and is expected to become effective later in the year. It will mean their use will only be permitted in closed greenhouses. Martin Dermine, at Pesticide Action Network Europe, said: “Authorising neonicotinoids a quarter of a century ago was a mistake and led to an environmental disaster. Today’s vote is historic.”
Vytenis Andriukaitis, European commissioner for Health and Food Safety, welcomed the decision, saying: “The commission had proposed these measures months ago, on the basis of the scientific advice from Efsa. Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production and the environment.”
Prof Nigel Raine, at the University of Guelph in Canada: added: “Policy makers in other jurisdictions will be paying close attention to these decisions. We rely on both farmers and pollinators for the food we eat. Pesticide regulation is a balancing act between unintended consequences of their use for non-target organisms, including pollinators, and giving farmers the tools they need to control crop pests.”
However, the ban has been met with some criticism, mostly from farmers and farming groups, who claim the EU is being overcautious. “European agriculture will suffer as a result of this decision,” said Graeme Taylor, at the European Crop Protection Association. “Perhaps not today, perhaps not tomorrow, but in time decision makers will see the clear impact of removing a vital tool for farmers.”
The UK’s National Farmers’ Union (NFU) also commented on the news: “The pest problems that neonicotinoids helped farmers tackle have not gone away. There is a real risk that these restrictions will do nothing measurable to improve bee health, while compromising the effectiveness of crop protection.”
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