Honey bee on Oregano flower. Jeff Lee photo

European Union bans three neonicotinoid pesticides blamed for bee deaths

Beekeepers and scientists in Canada and the United States are closely watching the European Union’s decision Monday to temporarily ban the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides being blamed for a decline in bee populations.
On Monday 15 of 27 member states in the EU voted for a two-year restriction on the sale and use of the three pesticides, BayerCropScience’s imidacloprid and clothianidin, and Syngenta’s thiamethoxam while scientists continue to study their effects on pollinators.
In a statement, the EU’s Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said he pledges ” to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over €22 billion annually to European agriculture, are protected.” The restrictions go into place Dec. 1, 2013.
In January the European Food Safety Authority recommended the pesticides be restricted while more research is undertaken, but the EU states failed to ratify that decision in a subsequent vote. Monday’s vote, however, while not giving the EU a qualified majority because of the abstention of Britain to the ban, allows the EU to restrict the use of the pesticides throughout the union.
Last year the Canadian government’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency began re-evaluations of all three of the neonicotinoid pesticides, while still allowing their use.
In January the PMRA also  issued new guidelines for their use in the wake of the rash of hive poisonings that took place around Ontario and Quebec corn fields that were sprayed with neonics.
Meanwhile, in the United States the Environmental Protection Agency is being sued over its approval of the pesticides by beekeepers and environmentalists who say the agency acted hastily and without adequate research.
The makers of the pesticides had, in recent months, proposed a bee health monitoring programs. They reacted swiftly and negatively to the EU’s ban.
BayerCropScience said the EU ban would be “a setback for technology, innovation and sustainability” that would result in “crop yield losses, reduced food quality and loss of competitiveness for European agriculture.”
John Atkin, Syngenta’s chief operating officer, was more blunt.  “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,” he said in a statement.
“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.”
Syngenta chose to highlight the fact the EU member states did not vote in a qualified majority for the ban, and called on them to go back to the negotiating table  “rather than forcing through the implementation of a ban.”
However, under EU rules, Borg can implement the ban on his own and he has chosen to do so. Britain’s opposition to the ban on neonicotinoids came despite fierce lobbying by environmental groups and a position for the ban taken by its own all-party Environmental Audit Committee of Parliament.

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