Is this the Downfall of Neonicotinoids in the EU?
After years of mounting pressure from toxicology experts, environmental advocacy organisations and beekeepers themselves, the European Union has the necessary evidence to take a decision and ban three neonicotinoid insecticides that are proven to pose a high risk to bees. The toxicity of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, three active neonicotinoid substances, is hugely harmful to bees and other pollinators. For instance, studies have confirmed their damage to bees, provoking both acute and chronic intoxications. This Friday, April 27, the widening of current restrictions on these substances will be up to vote, and Member States may ban all of their open-air uses. The spotlight shines on national governments to take a stance and achieve a new step in protecting pollinators at European level. The current restrictions, in effect since 2013, have been deemed insufficient, thus calling for an extension that better addresses the problem, to which the political environment has been no stranger. In the last few months, the ball has kept rolling with several actions by advocators, MEPs and other EU functionaries who insist that bees and all pollinators deserve better conditions to ensure their pollination services. In fact, before the scheduled vote this upcoming Friday, 86 MEPs had co-signed a letter addressed to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, stating their concern and pointing towards the existing scientific consensus that these pesticides pose a risk "specifically to honeybees and other pollinators". Before that, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published their report presenting the conclusions for risk assessment on neonicotinoids. In its scientific review, it concluded: neonicotinoids pose a risk to bees. After the overwhelming evidence and final pronunciation by the EFSA on the three active substances, 80 NGOs of the Save the Bees Coalition were already hoping for a vote to be taken on 23rd March 2018. The vote was expected to address these bee-harming insecticides, neonicotinoids. Experts from the 28 Member States met for a session of the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF) on March 22nd and 23rd, but the expected vote was neither scheduled nor it took place. In March 2017, the European Commission had already presented a plan to extend the current restrictions on three neonicotinoid insecticides but had a long road yet ahead to implement such proposal. A beam of light now shines as the vote is scheduled and the evidence is more substantial than ever, carrying along the heavy weight of the EFSA's conclusions. On a more integral side, the rapporteur on Prospects and Challenges of the European Beekeeping Sector, Norbert Erdős, presented to the European Parliament the Erdős Report. After being put to the vote, MEPs almost unanimously voted in favour to adopt the report, which includes measures such as: -Increasing budget by 50% and improving support to beekeepers; -A ban on harmful pesticides; -An action plan to combat bee mortality; -Measures to halt imports of fake honey, among others. The adoption of the Erdos report has put an extra pin on the needs for protecting bees and pollinators. European institutions have been working in sync, following facts with a more than significant support by the scientific community. Part of such support has even come from international non-EU initiatives. This year, the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides published its study presenting Alternatives to Neonicotinoids. In it, the Task Force co-chair Jean-Marc Bonmatin stated that "over-reliance on systemic insecticides for pest control is inflicting serious damage to the environmental services that underpin agricultural productivity. This new research is exciting because it's proven the existence and feasibility of a number of alternative, integrated pest management models - which are far better for the environment without increasing costs or risks for farmers". Such statement entails that not only are neonicotinoids harmful, but some alternatives may prove to be worth trying and are even more effective in managing pests than the indiscriminate use of pesticides. The report presents options such as landscape solutions, e.g. ecological corridors management; applying better farming methods, including crop rotations; the use of biological control methods, as natural predators and micro-organisms; and other environmentally safe methods (traps, repellents, naturally-derived insecticides). Arguments continue to flood decisionmakers to achieve a better stance on the proposed ban. Simply put, there are no longer any excuses. The vote is approaching, and there is no more room for previously used arguments, like those by the European Crop Protection Agency, ECPA, who managed have the Commission postpone the scheduled vote in December 2017, stating that it would be wiser to wait until the latest EFSA published its conclusions. In the meantime, countries like Bulgaria, Finland or Romania kept providing emergency authorisations on the suspended uses, now being too late to avoid this year's contamination. However, the wait is over, and history is about to be made, depending on the vote of EU's Member States. The vote is coming to be a culmination of non-stop scientific and political actions aiming towards increased protection of bees and all pollinators. As the European Commission prepares the tables, the only remaining question is: Will Member States side with bees? You may ask your national government how it will vote on the ban of all outdoor uses with no exceptions of the three neonicotinoids (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) on April 27. There is finally a chance to put an end to this story and start anew with better care for our pollinators and the environment. The downfall of neonicotinoids is the beginning of the uprise of the bees, which now lies in the hands of Member States who have the necessary arguments to turn the page on these dangerous pesticides.