On March 15, a proposed two-year suspension of seed treatment use of the neonicotinoid insecticides, clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethixam, on specified crops attractive to bees, failed to gain the necessary qualified majority vote from EU member states.

It is tempting to conclude that the result was due to rejection of the findings of the recent European Food Safety Agency (EFSA)’s review. This appears to have been rushed and based more on laboratory experimentation and modelling than on actual field experience. As a result it has ignored some key studies and independent monitoring. In some cases it has also over-estimated the neonicotinoid exposure to bees from seed treatments as used in the field, based on excessive seeding rates.

The Commission is now debating whether to appeal the decision or to amend the proposal. The UK, which abstained from the vote for suspension, will be guided by the views of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP), based on work just published by the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA). Given that the ACP is generally known for judgements based on sound science, this gives some cause for optimism – that the UK will adopt a more positive stance.

 

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“The other dataset which needs to be put into the equation is the impact of any such restriction,” says Dr Colin Ruscoe, chairman, BCPC. “Given the multiplicity of influences on bee health reported globally in recent years, suspension of use in itself would not provide scientific evidence on the effect of neonicotinoids. The fact that France has significantly restricted the use of these insecticidal seed treatments, with no concomitant improvement is not lost on beekeepers. Whereas loss of access to these products would clearly have extremely serious effects on agricultural productivity, given the absence of alternatives for control of many key pests of broad-acre crops, as well as fruit and vegetables, as demonstrated by an industry-led report on the subject.”

“BCPC now calls for an EU Commission-sponsored, independent impact assessment of the ban, as well as further properly-designed field experimentation, upon which to base its decisions,” says Dr Ruscoe. “The UK has already called for both. Hitherto, the crop protection industry has led such assessments, which however well-conducted, will not have the credibility required. The EU Commission should abide by established practice and accede to this request, rather than ignoring established rules for political expediency.”

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