An EU court has backed a partial ban on neonicotinoids saying that the European Commission was correct five years ago when it restricted their use in a bid to protect bee populations. The General Court of the European Union confirmed on Thursday the validity of the restrictions introduced at EU level in 2013 against the insecticides clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid because of the risks those substances pose to bees.
Imidacloprid is developed by Bayer CropScience, clothianidin developed by Takeda Chemical Industries and Bayer CropScience and Syngenta is behind thiamethoxam.
The chemical giants had been hoping to get the restrictions overturned.
However, the European court did annual restrictions on the use of a different class of pesticide, fipronil, which is developed by BASF. This is because the European Commission had not carried out adequate assessments on its impact.
Studies have found that the chemicals can disorientate bees which can stop them from returning to hives to pollinate. Bee populations have been in serious decline due to the use of pesticides.
A European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report earlier this year found that the high risk to bees, both honeybees and wild bees, came from any outdoor use as the pesticides can contaminate soil and water which leads to the pesticides being present in crops and wildflowers.
And last year, high concentrations of neonics was found in honey from North America, Asia and Europe, according to a study published in the leading scientific journal Science by an interdisciplinary team from the University of Neuchâtel and the Botanical Garden of Neuchâtel, Switzerland.
This week’s ruling closely follows the European Union agreeing on a total ban on the most widely-used insecticides from farmers fields. The neonicotinoid ban – covering imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam insecticides – was approved by member states earlier this month and is anticipated to come into effect by the end of this year.
It means that these chemicals cannot be used in fields because of the severe risk they pose to bee populations and instead can only be used in closed greenhouses.
The European court applied what is known as a “precautionary principle.”
“So far as the precautionary principle is concerned, the Court recalls that, where there is scientific uncertainty as to the existence or extent of risks to human health or the environment, this principle allows the institutions to take protective measures without having to wait until the reality and seriousness of those risks become fully apparent or until adverse health effects materialize.”
“The precautionary principle, moreover, gives precedence to the requirements relating to the protection of public health, safety and the environment over economic interests.”
Syngenta has responded to the EU court ruling, saying that is it “disappointing” and “unfortunate.”
“We stand by our past decision to challenge the European Commission’s decision-making process concerning our thiamethoxam technology, as it relied on a hypothetical risk to implement partial restrictions on neonicotinoid chemistries, outside legally approved regulation,” says a statement.
“Predictable regulatory frameworks and their consistent application by regulators enable companies like Syngenta to innovate and thus support European farmers and ultimately European consumers with locally produced, safe and affordable food.”
“The handling of this specific case reflects our more general concern at the approach the European Commission is taking to regulating technology in agriculture. The evolution of modern farming technology and responsible, science-based environmental management is imperative if we are to sustainably produce affordable, safe and local food to feed more than nine billion people by 2050 and take care of our planet.”
Syngenta adds how predictable, transparent and science-based regulation is at the center of meeting this challenge and scientific and regulatory excellence in Europe has increasingly become “politicized.”
“This has negatively affected all interested parties and above all, has damaged consumer trust,” the statement continues.
“Looking forward, the ruling must be seen as an opportunity to build stronger foundations for transparent dialogue and scientific understanding with European regulators and all other stakeholders. We want to send a clear message that scientific innovation is in our view the only effective way to address the common challenges of achieving food security and protecting the environment.”
Bayer to assess potential legal options
A Bayer statement also relays disappointment following the verdict, claiming that it requires in-depth analysis.
“The Court has ruled that the European Commission’s decision from 2013, which restricted the use of certain neonicotinoids, was lawful. Bayer will review the verdict in detail and assess its consequences and potential legal options,” says a statement.
“Bayer decided to pursue legal action to gain clarity on the legal basis of the Commission’s decision, which – in Bayer’s opinion – was uncertain. Bayer remains convinced of the safety of its products when applied by the label instructions.”