The European Commission’s proposal for a two-year suspension on neonicotinoid insecticides reached no qualified majority during the March 15th vote at a Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health : despite the fact that 13 member states voted in favour, 9 voted against and 5 abstained.
According to the European Food and Safety Authority, which in January 2013 concluded a project to assess bee surveillance systems in the EU and to analyse data and research related to honey bee mortality across Europe:
“Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides with a common mode of action that affects the central nervous system of insects, causing paralysis and death. A number of recent studies have suggested that exposure to neonicotinoids at sub-lethal doses can have significant negative effects on bee health and bee colonies.”
Although the Commission’s proposal was supported by France, Italy and Spain, abstentions from the UK and Germany did not allow for a qualified majority in favour of the ban. The nine member states that voted against the ban (Slovakia, Romania, Czech Republic, Portugal, Austria, Hungary, Lithuania, Ireland and Greece) sided with the argumentation of the agrochemicals industry, which raised issues of potential job loss, reduced yields and impacts on economic growth.
Shocked by the outcome, environmental groups criticise the lack of the necessary political leadership that will safeguard the true interests of Europe. According to a statement by Greenpeace UK:
“On one side you have the environmental organisations such as ourselves and Friends of the Earth, the European Food Safety Authority, parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee, and the governments of most EU nations. We’re relying on a large number of peer-reviewed scientific studies showing that neonicatinoids harm bees.
On the other (not altogether surprisingly), you have the pesticide manufacturers Syngenta and Bayer. They’re relying on their own studies which allegedly show neonicotinoids to be safe. Although they can’t show us these studies as they are, of course, commercially confidential. Defra commissioned a field trial which seems to have been intended to support neonicotinoid safety, but unfortunately their trial site was so contaminated by neonicotinoids that there was no effective control group, undermining the trial.”
The European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, Tonio Borg, announced that the Commission will refer its proposal for a ban on neonicotinoid insecticides to the Appeal Committee, stating that “the health of our bees is of paramount importance – we have a duty to take proportionate yet decisive action to protect them wherever appropriate”.