Irish bees under threat as agrichemical giants, Bayer and Syngenta, battle with European Commission

Published by Ross McCann on

February 24th 2017

Agrichemical giants, Bayer and Syngenta, are back in the European courts attempting to have the European Commission’s neonicotinoid ban overturned.

Following on from two separate reviews by the European Food and Safety Authority (ESFA) in 2013, the European Commission imposed a ban on three neonicotinoids; clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, sighting the risk which they pose to bees as the justification for the ban.

Bee populations have been declining in Europe since the 1980s, especially in Western Europe. Today, over 9% of all European bee species are now considered threatened with extinction. Wild honey bees are almost non-existent in many parts of the EU.

The cause of bee population decline is complex, and many different factors are contributing. The spectrum of threats to bees is broad, ranging from the the infectious varroa mite to climate change.

Neonicotinoids are synthetic chemicals similar to nicotine used as pesticides in agriculture. Seeds are coated with neonicotinoids and the toxin is taken up into plant tissue, resulting in less requirement to spray the pesticide later in the plant’s lifecycle. Neonicotinoid use became popular because they are cheap and non-toxic to humans. However, studies have shown neonicotinoids can harm bees and have linked the pesticides to the decline of bees across Europe and America.

Neonicotinoids have been shown to reduce bees cognitive ability, suppress their immune system leaving them open to infection and even cause death. It was for these reasons the European Commission implemented the ban on neonicotinoids in 2013.

Bees are important for many reasons, for biodiversity, ecosystem health, and economically. Bees are the main pollinators, pollinating over 80% of flowering plants, including many of the crops we rely on for food. As a result, bees are estimated to contribute over $200 billion to the world economy every year. In Ireland alone, bees are worth €53m a year to the economy.

The fresh rounds of litigation concerning the ban on neonicotinoids comes as the EU competition watchdog pours over a number of super mergers in the agrochemical industry.

Last Wednesday, the lawyer representing Bayer, Kristina Nordlander, attacked the Commission in court stating “There is no evidence” and they “responded to a ’weight of noise’ instead of the ’weight of evidence’ over neonicotinoids.

If the use of neonicotinoids is allowed to resume bee populations in Ireland and across Europe could be seriously negatively impacted.

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Ross McCann

Ross McCann is a contributor to the Green News. He is currently studying for an MSc in Environmental Science and Policy in UCD. He has a background in Environmental Biology.