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A new study by the European Food Safety Authority has confirmed that three neonicotinoid pesticides that are already restricted in their use are a threat to bees.
The new conclusions on clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam update those published in 2013, after which the European Commission imposed controls on use of the substances.
For the new assessments, which this time cover wild bees – bumblebees and solitary bees – as well as honeybees, EFSA’s Pesticides Unit carried out an extensive data collection exercise, including a systematic literature review, to gather all the scientific evidence published since the previous evaluations.
Jose Tarazona, Head of EFSA’s Pesticides Unit, said: “The availability of such a substantial amount of data as well as the guidance has enabled us to produce very detailed conclusions.
“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.”
EFSA came to its conclusions after two separate consultations with pesticide experts in the EU States.
The experts have supported the conclusions.
As with the previous assessments, exposure of bees to the substances was assessed through three routes: residues in bee pollen and nectar; dust drift during the sowing/application of the treated seeds; and water consumption.
European farmers through the organisation Copa and Cogeca welcomed the EFSA advice which the group said confirmed that there is no justification for a total ban on the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments on all crops.
Copa-Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen said “We attach great importance to honeybees at Copa and Cogeca as they are very important pollinators for crops and ensure biodiversity in the EU. At the same time, bees rely on crops to ensure that they are properly fed.
“We call on the EU Commission and Member States to assess carefully which uses could be approved based on the assessment of the three active substances. We also urge risk managers to examine appropriate measures to keep these products on the market at the same time as ensuring the safety of bees”.
Copa and Cogeca also welcomed many aspects of the new long-term strategy on bees adopted by European Parliament.
In the resolution passed by 560 votes to 27, MEPs have called on EU states to invest in protecting bee health, fight honey adulteration and support beekeepers.
In particular, they want to rebuild the bee population.
The MEPs are pressing for: MEPs call for:
“We must do our utmost to protect our honey and bees as 76 % of food production in Europe relies on pollination and so bees are indispensable for our food security”, said rapporteur Norbert Erdős .
Pekka Pesonen from Copa-Cogeca said: “The EU is the world’s second biggest producer after China, with 600 000 bee keepers producing about 250,000 tonnes of honey each year. It is an important sector for us and it is good news that MEPs want a long-term Strategy to boost its resilience.”
Earlier this year, The European Commission launched a public consultation on a European initiative on pollinators.
It is estimated that €5 billion from the annual EU agricultural output is directly attributed to pollinators.
Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella said: “Scientists have warned us of steep pollinator decline across Europe. We have a good understanding of declines for some pollinators while there are knowledge gaps for others. But it is beyond doubt that it is time to act. If we do not, we and our future generations would pay a very heavy price indeed.”
Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, said: “Pollinators are too important for our food security and farming communities – as well as for life on the planet. We cannot afford to continue losing them.”
The mid-term review of the EU 2020 biodiversity strategy showed that pollination might be significantly decreasing.
Almost one in 10 bee and butterfly species is facing extinction according to the European Red List.
To tackle the decline, the commission is looking to develop a European initiative on pollinators and calls on scientists, farmers and businesses, environmental organisations, public authorities and citizens to contribute.
The consultation will remain open until 5 April 2018.
At present five neonicotinoid insecticides are approved as active substances in the EU for the use in plant protection products – clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, acetamiprid and thiacloprid.
In 2013, the Commission severely restricted the use of plant protection products and treated seeds containing three of these neonicotinoids (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) in order to protect honeybees.
The measure was based on a risk assessment of EFSA in 2012.
It prohibits the use of these three neonicotinoids in bee-attractive crops (including maize, oilseed rape and sunflower) with the exception of uses in greenhouses, of treatment of some crops after flowering and of winter cereals.
Another neonicotinoid, acetamiprid, was classed as low risk to bees and a ban or further restrictions of this substance was considered neither scientifically nor legally appropriate. The renewal regulation for Acetamiprid has been renewed until 28 February 2033.
A fifth neonicotinoid, thiacloprid, is a candidate for substitution, based on its endocrine disrupting properties.
The current approval expires on 4 April 2018 and a procedure to renew the approval of thiacloprid is ongoing.