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Boosting Hopes for Total Ban, EU Regulator's New Assessment Confirms Neonics' Harm to Bees

"We have been playing Russian Roulette with the future of our bees for far too long"

EFSA's new assessment comes a month before the European Commission will discuss a proposal to ban neonics. (Photo: Tomas/flickr/cc)

Boosting hopes for a strict EU-wide ban on the pesticides, a new report by the European Union's food safety watchdog confirms that neonicotinoids, also known as neonics, pose a threat to bees.

The report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which upates its assessment from 2013, and draws from over 1,500 studies, looks at the impacts of three specific neonicotinoids—clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam—on honeybees and wild bees.

"The availability of such a substantial amount of data as well as the guidance has enabled us to produce very detailed conclusions," said Jose Tarazona, head of EFSA's pesticides unit.

"We have been playing Russian Roulette with the future of our bees for far too long. EU member states must now support a tougher ban on all outdoor use of these three bee-harming chemicals—a move that is fully justified by this report."
—Sandra Bell, Friends of the Earth Europe

"There is variability in the conclusions, due to factors such as the bee species, the intended use of the pesticide, and the route of exposure. Some low risks have been identified, but overall the risk to the three types of bees we have assessed is confirmed," he said.

The Independent notes that there "is currently a ban on neonicotinoid use on flowering crops in the EU. However, the new report suggests this is not sufficient, as the use of these chemicals in any outdoor setting poses a high risk to bees."

Indeed, said Dave Goulson, professor of biology at the University of Sussex, and author of books included A Buzz in the Meadow, "Since 2013, it has become clear that neonicotinoids do not only pose a risk to bees when used on flowering crops. They can pose a risk to bees via contamination of follow-on crops (judged to pose a high risk to honeybees and bumblebees) and via contamination of wildflowers in field margins (also judged to pose a high risk to honeybees and bumblebees)."

The EU has a chance soon to broaden the ban, as Reuters notes:

EU nations will discuss a European Commission proposal to ban three neonicotinoids next month in the Plant Animal Food and Feed Standing Committee.

"This is strengthening the scientific basis for the Commission's proposal to ban outdoor use of the three neonicotinoids," a spokeswoman for the EU executive said.

According to the Guardian, the new findings make "it highly likely that the neonicotinoid pesticides will be banned from all fields across the EU" when that vote happens.

Unsurprisingly, EFSA's new report drew reactions from numerous conservation organizations.

Friends of the Earth Europe bee campaigner Sandra Bell, for one, said that the "long-awaited report highlights yet again the huge threat these neonicotinoid pesticides pose to our bees. We have been playing Russian Roulette with the future of our bees for far too long. EU member states must now support a tougher ban on all outdoor use of these three bee-harming chemicals—a move that is fully justified by this report."

The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) weighed in as well, saying, "until there is convincing independent scientific evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides are not harmful to honey bees, we will support the continuation of the EU moratorium on their use."

"While it is good news that the regulators have definitively concluded that neonicotinoids pose a high risk," added Matt Shardlow, CEO of Buglife, "it is a tragedy that our bees, moths, butterflies, and flies have been hammered by these toxins for over 15 years, causing severe declines in wild pollinators and the pollination services they undertake. Not only should EU countries now ban their use entirely, they should also urgently approve and implement EFSA's bee risk assessment process so that the blunder is not repeated."

Another step to take, said FOE's Bell, is a total shift in widespread agricultural practices.

"Any ban on these damaging pesticides must go hand in hand with a fundamental reform of agriculture policy to help farmers work in harmony with nature —not against it. A major shift to agroecology is needed to allow nature to thrive."

Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the U.S.-based Center for Biological Diversity, took to Twitter to note that EU's science science-based evaluation comes as "the U.S. EPA refuses to do anything but the bidding of pesticide companies."

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