Bees protected as EU bans neonicotinoid pesticides

A near-total ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on crops in Europe has been introduced following a vote in the European Commission. From 2019 onwards, almost all outdoor uses of the chemicals will no longer be permitted.

The proposed ban gained a large majority backing from the twenty eight EU member states when it was put to the vote at the end of April 2018. When a similar ban was proposed in 2013, the UK voted against it because the scientific evidence against the chemicals was inconclusive. This time around, however, the UK backed the ban. Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced last year that he considered tougher restrictions to be justified due to the growing weight of scientific evidence now saying that the chemicals are harmful to bees and other pollinators. This was in line with the advice received from the UK government’s advisory body on pesticides.

Neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticides that are similar to nicotine in their chemical composition. They work by blocking specific neural pathways of insect central nervous systems, causing disorientation, an inability to feed, and death. Three particular chemicals in the class fall under the new ban: Imidacloprid, Clothianidin, and Thiamethoxam.

The use of neonicotinoid pesticides had already been banned on a range of crops following a vote back in 2013, including maize, wheat, barley, oats, and oil-seed rape, but it had still been allowed on sugar beet, various horticultural crops, and to treat seeds for winter cereals. The older restrictions will remain in place for the next eight months or so before the new ban comes into effect. This will allow farmers and businesses time to adjust and to phase out their use of neonicotinoids.

Scientific studies have linked the use of neonicotinoids in protecting crops from insects to a decline in bees and other pollinators around the world for a number of years now. The EU’S decision was mainly driven by a recent report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) which found that neonicotinoids posed a threat to many species of bee wherever they’re used in the outdoor environment.

We are committed to enhancing our environment for the next generation, and welcome the vote today in support of further restrictions on neonicotinoids.

Defra spokesperson

It is thought that the value of pollinator species to crops in the UK alone is £400-680 million per year. The value worldwide has been estimated at a massive $217 US. 80% of all plant species in Europe are pollinated by insects, including most fruits, many vegetables and some biofuel crops. Without species such as bees, all of these crops would need to be pollinated by hand.

The ban has taken a long time to arrive. Now we just have to hope that other areas of the world follow the EU’s lead. Only then can neonicotinoids, and the damage they do to pollinator populations, become a thing of the past.