Botanist welcomes EU court ruling on pesticides that can harm bees

Study aims to measure presence of ‘very long-lived’ chemicals in Irish environment

 The European Commission undertook its initial review due to the loss of bee colonies from misuse of pesticides. File photograph: Crispin Rodwell

The European Commission undertook its initial review due to the loss of bee colonies from misuse of pesticides. File photograph: Crispin Rodwell

 

A European Court of Justice decision to uphold a ban on pesticides known to harm bees has been welcomed as an ongoing study seeks to measure their presence in the Irish environment.

The decision means three neonicotinoids partially banned in 2013 remain out of reach for use in the production of maize, rapeseed and some spring cereals.

The initial decision taken by the European Commission was challenged by the chemical company Bayer and upheld by a lower EU court in 2018.

It covers three active substances – imidacloprid developed by Bayer CropScience, clothianidin developed by Takeda Chemical Industries and Bayer CropScience, as well as Syngenta’s thiamethoxam.

Trinity College Dublin botanist Prof Jane Stout said that while the chemicals in question are not used in Ireland as a consequence of EU rules governing sustainable pesticide use, it raised important questions about what might be used instead.

“It’s not just bees [that are affected] and I think that’s important; there are risks to other invertebrates,” she said of the neonicotinoids at the centre of the case.

“The way these insecticides work is that they dissolve into the soil water and they are very long-lived, they take a long time to break down. In terms of [targeting] insects that makes them very good but in terms of the environment that makes them very bad.”

The agents attack the nervous system and affect internal physiology – in the case of bees this can affect behaviour and memory, even their ability to return home.

Following last week’s court ruling a Bayer spokesperson said the manufacturer was disappointed and stood by the safety of the products which continue to be used in other regions.

“The verdict seems to allow the [European] Commission almost carte blanche to review existing approvals upon the slightest evidence, which need not even be new scientific data,” the spokesperson said.

However, Prof Stout said there was regular emerging data on risk. Earlier this year, she published a study identifying residue from two of the three banned neonicotinoids in honey and is now examining soil, nectar and pollens in crops and wild plants.

The commission undertook its initial review due to the loss of bee colonies from misuse of pesticides. However, Bayer and ChemChina-owned Syngenta have warned that banning the insecticides would mean farmers reverting to older chemicals.

Other types of neonicotinoids remain available for use in Ireland, Prof Stout said. – Additional reporting: Reuters