Environmental Laboratory

Have the EU Finally Banned Bee-Harming Pesticides?

May 16 2018 Read 888 Times

The EU has announced that farmers and private homeowners will be banned from using neonicotinoids everywhere except inside greenhouses, in recognition of the serious danger posed to the bee population by these pesticides.

Neonicotinoids have been outlawed on flowering crops since 2013, though declining bee populations across the globe and mounting evidence which points to the insecticide as the root cause have led to them extending the ban to include all field plants.

Bees in decline

Bees are an integral and often under-appreciated cog in global food production. Along with other insects, they help to pollinate three-quarters of all crops grown for human and animal consumption. However, recent evidence has shown that there are almost 75% less winged insects in Germany, with the scientific community inferring that similar results could be expected elsewhere. This could have a disastrous impact on food production and agriculture.

The damaging effects of neonicotinoids on bees are well-documented.  Not only can they impact the effectiveness of a bee’s memory – vital to gathering food and building a colony – but they can also reduce the fertility of queen bees. As such, they were given a blanket ban on all flowering crops which attract bees (such as oilseed rape) in 2013, leading to its own set of challenges.

Far-reaching consequences

However, it is now believed that such a ban does not go far enough. While the pesticide may have only been used on non-flowering crops in the last five years, recent studies of honey samples showed widespread contamination of the bees by neonicotinoids around the globe. This is thought to occur because the pesticide contaminates the soil and water surrounding plants too, increasing the likelihood they will be spread to other species and persist in the environment.

Late last year, Environment Secretary Michael Gove took a U-turn on British governmental policy with regards to the pesticides, removing British opposition to an outright ban on outdoor use. This paved the way for last month’s vote, with the EU opting to ban all field uses of neonicotinoids from the beginning of next year.

For and against

The decision has split opinion, though by and large the public have supported the idea of outlawing neonicotinoids. “Authorising neonicotinoids a quarter of a century ago was a mistake and led to an environmental disaster. Today’s vote is historic,” said Martin Dermine of Pesticide Action Network Europe.

However, the new challenges facing pesticide analysis and monitoring were not welcome news to everyone. The farming community in particular were apprehensive about the effect the ban would have on agricultural production. “The pest problems that neonicotinoids helped farmers tackle have not gone away,” said Guy Smith, deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union. “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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