The European Union has decided to ban all use outdoors of neonicotinoids after some recent reports have shown it can harm bees. The EU decision Friday comes despite strong evidence that shows neonicotinoid pesticides are the least of concern when it comes to saving bees.
The ban covers the use of three active substances – imidacloprid developed by Bayer CropScience, clothianidin developed by Takeda Chemical Industries and Bayer CropScience as well as Syngenta’s thiamethoxam.
Bayer CropScience said the decision will further reduce European farmers’ ability to tackle important pests, for many of which there are no alternative treatments available.
Bayer remains convinced that the restrictions are not warranted, because neonicotinoids are safe when used in accordance with the label instructions. Even under the extremely conservative evaluation criteria of the European Food Safety Authority EFSA, the most recent bee risk assessment reports (1) did not find high risks for many neonicotinoid uses where a definitive risk conclusion could be drawn; in those cases, only low risks were found for honey bees, and for wild bees the risk was also found to be low in the majority of cases.
Bayer is surprised that, once again, legislative measures are being implemented without a prior thorough impact assessment. Beyond the costs for European farmers, the restrictions in place have already brought considerable unintended consequences: 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.
Numerous recent studies, inter alia by the Joint Resource Centre of the European Commission (2), have highlighted the impact of these restrictions. As it currently stands, the European crop protection industry will not be able to offer any registered seed treatments or soil-applied insecticides that could replace the current use patterns of imidacloprid and clothianidin.
It is also puzzling that Member States were asked to take a decision at this time, since the verdict of the ongoing court case (scrutinizing the legal basis of the 2013 restrictions) has not yet been delivered; this is due on 17 May. A reversal of the current restrictions could have profound implications for the legal justification of the new proposals.
Finally, the restrictions are intended to address the alleged risks the substances pose to bee health. Bayer cares about bees. They are essential for the pollination of many arable crops. But there are other, better ways to support pollinator health – such as increasing pollinator foraging options or natural habitats and more efficient control of the varroa mite – than banning substances that have helped farmers effectively manage a broad range of significant pests.
As a leading agriculture company that has a vested stake in pollinator health, Bayer has been working with partners around the globe on efforts to improve habitat and nutrition, better understand the science behind pollinator health, and improve stewardship and farmer / beekeeper communication.
Syngenta echoed Bayer’s response:
What we need today, more than ever before, is for farmers to ensure the supply of safe and affordable food – while minimizing the negative impact and amplifying the positive effects that agriculture has on the environment. The evidence clearly shows that neonicotinoids pose a minimum threat to bee health compared to a lack of food, diseases and cold weather.
Technology and other related advances can benefit all farming systems. All farmers, whether large or small, conventional or organic, can be more productive while conserving scarce resources, protecting nature and improving biodiversity. By constantly improving chemistry and developing products such as neonicotinoids, we can help farmers continue to protect their crops from insects and weeds, while minimizing the impact on the environment and on human health.
The Commission’s reliance on an unapproved regulatory document (The Bee Risk Guidance Document) in order to propose a further ban of neonicotinoids is not sound and will not address the challenges we face in ensuring safe and reliable food supply while also taking care of the environment. In fact, the Bee Risk Guidance Document is so conservative and so far removed from the reality of agriculture that its application would see most, if not all agricultural chemicals banned, including for example, those used in organic agriculture.
We stand by our products and our science. We will continue to help growers put food and habitat for pollinators back into the farming landscape through the development of good technology, supported by programs like Operation Pollinator. Since 2001, Operation Pollinator has positively impacted more than 5 million hectares of arable land globally and we will continue to rely on our more than 100,000 bee hives in Europe and around the world to pollinate our seeds for production.