After a sobering report published in February on the dangers of neonicotinoids to bee populations, scientists called for a pesticide ban.
The European Food Safety Authority, or EfSA, published a groundbreaking report in February. The European Union's scientific risk assessors found that popular insecticides are incredibly harmful to bee populations. Despite pushback from pesticide manufacturers, scientists stood firmly behind the results. They immediately sought a pesticide ban to save the populations of bees in Europe before the damage became irreversible. They achieved success when the European Union enacted a pesticide ban. The EU will ban major varieties of pesticides that contain neonicotinoids from all fields.
The Damning Evidence That Led to a Full Pesticide Ban
Scientists behind the risk assessment report analyzed more than 1,500 studies before reaching their conclusion. They found that the risk to bees varied slightly on exposure route and the crop. However, the risk was still incredibly high. "For all the outdoor uses, there was at least one aspect of the assessment indicating a high risk.". The pesticides in question contain neonicotinoids, which are nerve agents. The nerve agent caused memory loss in bees and reduced numbers of hive queens. From 1500 surveys, the EU is confident that the damage to the three types of bees studied is high risk and well-documented.
The EfSA assessment also discovered another factor when studying bumblebees and solitary bees for the first time. There is a high risk to bees not from direct exposure to neonicotinoids, but from contamination of the soil and water from pesticides. Through this contamination, pesticides are appearing in wildflowers and succeeding crops. A study of honey samples from bees revealed contamination by neonicotinoids. Pesticides are affecting bees of all kinds. Pesticides affect consumers of honey, wheat, and products of contaminated soil.
The reports and subsequent vote don't come without pushback, however. A spokesman for Syngenta, who manufacturers neonicotinoids jeered: “Efsa sadly continues to rely on a [bee risk guidance] document that is overly conservative, extremely impractical and would lead to a ban of most if not all insecticides, including organic products.”
The criticism did not deter members of the European Union. were not deterred.
Voting on the Pesticide Ban
The total ban that was put into place in April is not the first piece of legislation on this topic. The EfSA first published an assessment in January 2013. It targeted neonicotinoids as an unacceptable risk to bees. When the report was published, it paved the way for the EU to instate a partial ban on pesticides. The legislation in April 5 years later brings the matter full circle. With the pesticide ban now in place, the only areas where the pesticides will be acceptable for use is in enclosed greenhouses.
Although the EU is experiencing criticism from some, particularly pesticide manufacturers, it's evident the move has widespread support. A petition started by Avaaz obtained 5 million signatures to outlaw the pesticides. The issue has been circulating for years and appears to have reached a fever pitch. For example, a study recently found that 75% of flying insects in Germany have disappeared. Furthermore, research on the pesticides has shown the effect on colonies and not just individual bees, prompting voters into action.
Food production in the European Union is a multi-billion dollar industry, and it relies on the natural process of pollination. Without pollinators, crops will languish costing countries money, health and an abundance of food. The European Union has taken a step in the right direction, and it is one we hope the rest of the world will follow suit on.