Move to be reviewed after two years
Amid growing alarm at the collapse of bee populations in Europe, the European Commission will be implementing temporary restrictions on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. The temporary restrictions are based on the identification of the risks these pesticides pose to bee health in a report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The report which was released in January held three neonicotinoids—imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam responsible for declining honey bee population.
The proposal of temporarily restricting the use of the pesticides was favoured by 15 countries and opposed by eight in an Appeal Committee vote in the European Union (EU) on April 29. Under the proposed restrictions, the use of neonicotinoid pesticides for seed treatment, soil application and foliar treatment for bee-attractive plants will be banned. EFSA had identified high acute risks for bees in the form of exposure to dust in several crops such as maize, cereals and sunflower, residue in pollen and nectar in crops like oilseed rape and and sunflower and exposure from guttation in maize.
The restrictions will be in force from start of December this year and will initially apply for two years after which they will be reviewed in the light of scientific developments.
Collapse of pollinator populations
Bees are prime pollinators for a majority of food crops across the globe. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), they are responsible for about one-third of the total food production worldwide. In last few years, the declining bee population has been a concern in many countries, including European nations and the US. In December 2006, managed bee colonies in the US started reporting unexplainable high losses in number of bees. The problem, which has continued ever since, was identified as colony collapse disorder (CCD). CCD is characterised by loss in number of worker bees with very few dead bees found near colonies. European countries have also reported similar cases in the past few years.
Though multiple factors have been blamed for declining bee population, pesticides seem to be the most prevalent one. Greenpeace, an international non-profit, reported an average of 20 per cent decline in bee populations in colonies during the past few winters. It highlighted the impacts of seven pesticides, including the three neonicotinoids. “The dramatic decline of bees is just a symptom of a failed agricultural system based on the intensive use of chemicals, serving the interest of powerful corporations like Bayer and Syngenta,” said Matthias Wüthrich, ecological farming campaigner with Greenpeace.
EU’s decision is being looked upon as a safe and positive step. “Based on the body of evidence, we can see that it is absolutely correct to take a precautionary approach and ban these chemicals,” said Jacqueline McGlade, executive director, European Environment Agency under European Union. She pointed out that certain neonicotinoids were banned in France for maize in 2004 but it did not affect productivity.
No lessons learned
The industry is still in denial. Friedhelm Schmider, director general of European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), which represents European pesticide industry expressed disappointment over the restrictions. “The crop protection industry believes that neonicotinoids are not the cause of the mortality of bee colonies and we are committed to work with all relevant parties to build a common understanding and develop solutions to the main threats to bee health," he said.
Ironically, India does not seem to be learning lessons from the West. The use of neonictinoids has been going up in the past decade. The Central Insecticide Board has recommended these pesticides as alternatives to endosulfan, a pesticide which was banned in 2011 in India. “We always tend to learn our lessons the hard way. Opting for neonicotinoids can only be a short-term solution. Though these pesticides are meant to be used in smaller volumes, their environmental impacts can be very serious,” says Kavitha Kuruganti, national convenor, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture.