The EU has reached an agreement to ban some of the world’s most widely used insecticides from outdoor use, with the aim of halting a decline in bee populations.
The ban will mean that neonicotinoids, among the world’s most widely used insecticides, can only be used in closed greenhouses after it comes into force by the end of 2018. The use of neonicotinoids on crops which attract bees – such as maize, wheat, oats and barley – was already outlawed in 2013, but recent reports suggested that plummeting bee populations were still linked to these insecticides.
A report published in February by the European Food Safety Authority found that neonicotinoids can pollute soil and water, which leads to them contaminating wildflowers and other crops. Further, the Guardian reports that a recent study of honey samples revealed widespread neonicotinoid contamination, indicating that current measures have been insufficient to tackle the threat to bees.
In response, the European Commission has announced that the use of these insecticides will now be outlawed in all fields due to the ongoing threat they pose to bees. The proposal was subject to a vote by member states, and despite concerns by some agricultural producers that the science on the subject of neonicotinoids is flawed and inconclusive, the ban achieved the necessary majority today and will enter into force this year.
Why was the proposal controversial?
Chris Hartfield, of the UK’s National Farmers’ Union, told the BBC that the measures the EU has already taken to protect bee populations from these insecticides have not proved successful, and that a ban on their use was therefore unjustified.
He said: “The commission hasn’t been able to find that these restrictions have delivered any measurable benefits for bees. That has been a big question for us, and if we can’t be certain they can deliver measurable benefits why are we doing this?”
Hartfield also warned that the ban may lead to farmers decreasing the amounts that they grow of certain crops, a phenomenon which he has already observed in some cases. Instead, these crops are being imported from third countries, and are still being subjected to neonicotinoids and others of the world’s most widely used insecticides.