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Europe Bans Three Neonicotinoids

Regulation: Chemicals linked to disastrous honeybee population declines cannot be used for at least two years, European Commission says

by Britt E. Erickson
May 2, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 18

The European Commission (EC) plans to move ahead with a two-year ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides. The move came after member states failed to reach a majority for or against the ban during an appeals committee vote on April 29. The restrictions will go into effect in December.

The decision to ban the three chemicals—clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam—was prompted by a study by the European Food Safety Authority that associated the pesticides with numerous risks to honeybee health.

Fifteen member states supported the restriction, eight voted against it, and four abstained during the appeals committee vote. Because a qualified majority was not met, the decision was handed over to the EC—the administrative arm of the European Union—which chose to go forward with the ban.

“I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over €22 billion [$29 billion] annually to European agriculture, are protected,” Tonio Borg, European commissioner for health and consumer policy, said in a statement after the vote. The commission will release its plan for removing the three pesticides from the European marketplace in coming weeks.

Bayer CropScience, maker of clothianidin and imidacloprid, called the decision “a setback for technology, innovation, and sustainability.” The company claims that the restrictions will lead to reduced crop yields, lower food quality, and less competitive European agriculture.

Bayer remains convinced that neonicotinoids are safe for bees, when used according to label instructions. “Clear scientific evidence has taken a backseat in the decision-making process,” the company says.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth hailed the EC’s decision, calling it “a significant victory for bees and common sense.” But the group warned that bees face many threats beyond pesticides.



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