Will World Act to Protect Bees from Pesticidal 'Nerve Agent'?

A honeybee pollinates a flower in a citrus grove just coming into blossom. Environmental campaigners say the conclusion, by Europe's leading food safety authority, sounds the "death knell" for the insect nerve agent neonicotinoid. (Photograph: David Silverman/Getty Images)

Will World Act to Protect Bees from Pesticidal 'Nerve Agent'?

New study in Europe points sharp finger at neonicotinoids, but will it be enough to get governments to act against industry?

In what environmental campaigners say could be the hopeful "death knell" for a certain family of pesticides long believed to be harming the health of the world's bee colonies, a new report released Wednesday says that use of such chemicals should be deeply curtailed and urgency given to identify potential risks the chemicals pose to other plant pollinators.

The report, released by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), found that a host of chemical compounds--the active ingredients in widely used neonicotinoid pesticides--pose serious risks to the global bee population and thus the overall ecological health of the biosphere.

"Given the importance of bees in the ecosystem and the food chain and given the multiple services they provide to humans, their protection is essential," EFSA said in a statement released with the report.

The family of neonicotinoid pesticides are sprayed on many staple crops throughout the world and are designed to act as "nerve agents" on insects. The industrial manufacturer of most of these chemicals, Bayer, has repeatedly pushed back against scientific studies pointing to the chemicals as a possible villain in the 'colony collapse' epidemic that has infected pollinating bees worldwide in recent years.

The EFSA report, however, gives campaigners hope that the tide has turned against an industry-backed misinformation campaign.

"This is a major turning point in the battle to save our bees," Friends of the Earth's Andrew Pendleton said to The Guardian in response to the report: "EFSA have sounded the death knell for one of the chemicals most frequently linked to bee decline and cast serious doubt over the safety of the whole neonicotinoid family of insecticides. Ministers must wake up to the fact that these chemicals come with an enormous sting in the tail by immediately suspending the use of these pesticides."

Also speaking responding was Prof David Goulson from the University of Stirling, who led one of the key 2012 studies reviewed in the EFSA report and said: "It is very pleasing that EFSA now acknowledge there are significant environmental risks associated with these chemicals. It begs the question of what was going on when these chemicals were first approved. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was 50 years ago but we have not learned the lessons."

Scientists at EFSA released this video to explain the importance of bee pollination and the harm created by the toxic compounds found in popular pesticides:

And The Guardian's Damian Carrington adds:

The chemical's manufacturer, Bayer, claimed the report, released on Wednesday, did not alter existing risk assessments and warned against "over-interpretation of the precautionary principle".

The report comes just months after the UK government dismissed a fast-growing body of evidence of harm to bees as insufficient to justify banning the chemicals.

Bees and other pollinators are critical to one-third of all food, but two major studies in March 2012, and others since, have implicated neonicotinoid pesticides in the decline in the insects, alongside habitat loss and disease. In April, the European commission demanded a re-examination of the risks posed by the chemicals, including Bayer's widely used imidacloprid and two others. [...]

The chemical industry funded a report published on Tuesday claiming that banning neonicotinoids would cost farmers PS620m in lost food production. But Goulson said the report contained "not a shred" of serious evidence.


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