The European Union has backed a near-total ban on a strain of insecticides that pose a serious threat to the world’s bee population. 

Neonicotinoids are the world’s most widely used insecticides but, as of the end of 2018, they will only be used under strict conditions in the EU. 

“All outdoor uses will be banned and the neonicotinoids in question will only be allowed in permanent greenhouses where exposure of bees is not expected,” said the European Commission in a statement on Friday. 

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Campaign group Friends of the Earth described the decision as a “major victory for science, common sense, and our under-threat bees.” 

The group added: “The European Commission must now focus on developing a strong pollinator initiative that boosts bee-friendly habitat and helps farmers cut pesticide-use.” 

It comes after the EU introduced a partial ban against the pesticides, on the use of flowering crops, in 2013. 

Bees play a critical role in global agriculture and food production, and protecting them is an ambition of the UN’s Global Goals — but under goal No. 2 for zero hunger, and under goal No. 15 for life on land. 

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Bees and other insects pollinate three-quarters of all crops, according to the Guardian. But numbers have fallen dramatically worldwide in recent years. 

According to the UN, 37% of bee species are facing population loss. In the UK, around 13 species of bee have died out since 1900, and a further 35 are at risk. In Germany, 75% of all flying insects have vanished. In the US, around 50% of species are declining and nearly 25% are facing extinction. 

In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has blocked particular neonicotinoids when bees are present, and is investigating more rigorous restrictions.

Neonicotinoids can’t be blamed solely for the decline, as it’s instead more likely to be a result of a combination of factors, including climate change, deforestation, and loss of wildflowers, among other things. 

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Nevertheless, Friends of the Earth have said the evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides pose a threat to bees is “overwhelming.” 

According to the group, the pesticides are absorbed into every part of a plant — from the roots and stem, to leaves and flowers. When a bee feeds on the plant’s pollen or nectar, the pesticide can damage its nervous system and motor function, affecting its feeding, navigation, foraging, and reproduction. 

A groundbreaking study in August 2017 revealed that neonicotinoids stop bees reproducing. The study, by a team of scientists at London’s Royal Holloway University, found that bees exposed to the pesticide were 26% less likely to reproduce than those not exposed to it. 

Nigel Raine, part of the research team, told news site NPR at the time that the pesticide could cause bees to “enter a spiral of decline and eventually die out.” 

Another report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in February 2018 warned that any outdoor use of the pesticides is damaging to both honeybees and wild bees.

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The UK had previously opposed tougher restriction on neonicotinoids, but in November environment secretary Michael Gove announced that tougher restrictions were needed. 

“The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100 billion food industry, is greater than previously understood,” Gove said in a statement at the time. 

“I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use,” he said. “We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk.”

The EU’s decision will be unpopular with farming groups, however, as the pesticides boost crop yield. 

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The ban covers the use of three active substances, according to Reuters news agency — imidacloprid, developed by Bayer CropScience; clothianidin, developed by Takeda Chemical Industries and Bayer CropScience; and Syngenta’s thiamethoxam. 

Bayer said the ban is “a sad day for farmers and a bad deal for Europe.” 

Both Bayer and Syngenta had already challenged the partial ban from 2013 at the European Court of Justice, and a verdict is expected in May, according to Reuters

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, which include action on hunger and malnutrition, and protecting life on land. You can join us by taking action on these issues here


Defend the Planet

The EU Will Totally Ban These Bee-Harming Pesticides

By Imogen Calderwood