Member States remain divided on Commission proposal for two-year ban on neonicotinoids
EU Regulatory Bulletin contents
On 14 March 2013 the European Commission submitted a proposal to ban 3 neonicotinoid insecticides (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam) to the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health.
The Commission's proposal is a response to EFSA's risk assessments regarding the impact of neonicotinoids on bee health, which were reported on 16 January 2013. These reports concluded that a "high risk was indicated or could not be excluded (…) for some of the authorised uses (and that) for some exposure routes it was possible to identify a low risk for some of the authorised uses." It was also reported that in some cases EFSA was unable to finalise the assessments due to data gaps (see our February 2013 Bulletin contribution on this).
In essence, the Commission proposed to amend the conditions of approval of the 3 neonicotinoids to:
• restrict their use to crops that aren't attractive to bees and to winter cereals;
• prohibit the sale and use of seeds treated with plant protection products containing clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam as active substances as from 1 July 2013; and
• review these restrictions after 2 years.
However, the draft measure failed to achieve a qualified majority: 13 Member States supported the proposal, with 9 opposed and 5 abstentions.
At a subsequent meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on neonicotinoids and bee health that took place on 18-19 March 2013, some Member States considered that further scientific advice should be sought before taking action. In particular, the UK informed the Council that new field data will soon become available to EFSA for assessment. Other Member States expressed support for the Commission proposal for immediate action. The Commission reported that it is considering further amendments to the proposed ban to generate wider support among Member States.
According to the European Crop Producers Association, the measures proposed by the Commission would impact on crop yield, economic growth and jobs without improving bee health. A report by Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture, funded by Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, also found that there is no scientific evidence indicating that neonicotinoid seed treatment is primarily responsible for the decline in bee populations; instead, disease, viruses and loss of habitat are the most likely causes. In the light of such uncertainties, industry has expressed concerns about an overly conservative application of the precautionary principle and lack of proportionality. Syngenta and Bayer CropScience have proposed an alternative action plan that would include the following:
• scaling up the creation of pollen rich, flowering field margins throughout the EU to protect bee habitats;
• support for a comprehensive field monitoring program for bee health (including the detection of neonicotinoid plant protection products);
• mandatory implementation of measures aimed at mitigating the exposure risk to bees;
• investment in new technologies that further reduce dust emission from the planting of seeds treated with neonicotinoid plant protection products; and
• investment in further research on factors that impact on bee health.
Meanwhile the debate has also spread to the US: beekeepers and 5 environmental NGOs are challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's decisions to approve the use of clothianidin and thiametoxam, which they deem responsible for the bee colony decline, and are requesting the authorisations to be suspended.
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