The European Commission is to propose a full ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides following the partial ban it imposed in 2013, according to leaked documents. The draft regulation proposal calls for three active substances – Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam – which are found in some the world’s most popular pesticides to be limited to use in greenhouses. By prohibiting the planting in open fields of seeds treated with the substances the Commission hopes to minimise ‘high acute risks’ that they pose to bees.
If the regulation is passed, it would mark a huge victory for Europe’s environmental groups who have campaigned for the ban on the grounds that the widely used substances are a contributing factor to the decline in bee populations. The pesticide industry and farming groups have pushed back against a ban arguing that pesticides are necessary to protect crops and that there is insufficient scientific evidence that they cause harm to pollinating bees. In order for the Commission’s proposal to become law it must be passed by a majority of 55 percent of member states representing 65 percent of EU citizens. In 2013 the Commission voted to suspend the use of the three substances on flowering plants attractive to honeybees like corn, sunflowers and oilseed rape. On that occasion, the proposal ended in a hung vote, which left the final decision to the Commission, which decided to implement the ban.
According to a report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services pollinating insects are worth between $235 to $577 billion to global agriculture with 75% of food crops depending to some extent on insect pollination. The report also claims that 16.5% of vertebrate pollinators are facing extinction and cites pesticide use along with alien invasive species, diseases and pests, and climate change as the main threats.
Beyond their impact on wildlife, chronic exposure to pesticides has also been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility. A report by the UN the Special Rapporteur on the right to food noted that “While…proving a definitive link between exposure [to pesticides] and human diseases or conditions… presents a considerable challenge. This challenge has been exacerbated by a systematic denial, fuelled by the pesticide and agroindustry, of the magnitude of the damage inflicted by these chemicals, and aggressive, unethical marketing tactics remain unchallenged.”
Discussions concerning the proposed ban are ongoing and no final date has been announced for the vote, but it is thought that it could go ahead as early as May.