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EU to ban neonicotinoid pesticides outdoors

Move follows report by food safety agency on health risks to bees

by Britt Erickson
April 27, 2018

Structures of three neonicotinoid pesticides: clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and imidacloprid.

The European Union is expected to ban all outdoor uses of neonicotinoid pesticides by the end of the year because of their potential to harm bees. Member states voted in favor of the proposed ban at a meeting in Brussels on April 27.

The action goes beyond restrictions the EU placed on three neonicotinoids—clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam—in 2013, by extending the ban to all outdoor uses. The chemicals were previously allowed on sugar beets, winter cereals, and a few other crops. Now, they will only be allowed if used in permanent greenhouses.

EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis welcomed the vote. “Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production and the environment,” he said in a statement.

The regulation was prompted by scientific advice from the European Food Safety Authority. Earlier this year, the agency reported that outdoor uses of neonicotinoid pesticides pose a high risk to the health of honeybees, wild bees, and bumblebees.

Bayer CropScience, which makes clothianidin and imidacloprid, disputes that assessment, calling the regulation “a bad deal for the European agricultural sector and the environment.” The company claims that restrictions in place have already led to problems including, “a lack of alternative solutions; more spray applications, leading to more CO2 emissions; an increased risk of resistant pest insects; and a return to older, less-effective chemicals.”

Environmentalists and others campaigning to save the bees rallied with joy in bee costumes on the streets of Brussels following the vote. “This is a major victory for science, common sense, and our under-threat bees,” says Emi Murphy, a bee campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “The evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides pose a threat to our bees is overwhelming.”

The European Commission plans to adopt the regulation in the next few weeks, with an effective date later this year.


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