The European Commission has confirmed that it will heavily restrict the use of three pesticides linked to problems with bee health — just as another chemical has come under scrutiny following scientific assessment.
A two-year restriction on the neonicotinoids clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam will come into force on 1 December, preventing their use in specific applications such as seed treatments for crops attractive to bees.
“Last month, I pledged that, based on the number of risks identified by the European Food Safety Authority’s scientific opinion, I would do my utmost to ensure that our honeybee population is protected. Today’s adoption delivers on that pledge and marks another milestone towards ensuring a healthier future for our honeybees,” said Tonio Borg, the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, in a statement on 24 May.
The commission had previously requested a two-year ban and gained the right to bring one in after member-state governments failed to agree at a vote on the issue earlier this year (see ‘Europe debates risk to bees’). After that vote on 29 April Borg pledged to bring in the restriction by December, and this has now been adopted by the commission.
But on 27 May, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released an assessment of the risk to bees from fipronil — a non-neonicotinoid insecticide. The EFSA’s assessment is that fipronil represents a “high acute risk” to bees when used in maize, owing to dust drift. Risks in several other uses could not be established because data were lacking, although use on vegetables was deemed low risk.
It was the EFSA’s ruling on neonicotinoids that started the ball rolling on the two-year restriction. It remains to be seen whether the commission will make a similar play with fipronil and whether this will prove as controversial as the neonicotinoid restrictions.