16 November 2010
Pesticide industry involvement in EU risk assessment puts survival of bees at stake
Industry “experts are undermining an EU review of the regulations of pesticides and putting Europes bee population further at risk, according to new research from the European Beekeeping Coordination and Corporate Europe Observatory published today (1). The report comes ahead of a vote by MEPs (23rd – 24th November) on a resolution requiring independent research into bee mortality and a revision of EU rules governing risk assessments of bees' exposure to pesticides (2).
According to the research, proposed new safety tests for pesticides used in the European Union fail to take into account the way in which so-called systemic pesticides can build up in bees and their food supplies.
Bee numbers have been declining across Europe by up to 30 per cent a year, threatening food supplies because of the vital role played by bee pollination (3). A number of different factors are thought to be to blame.
The report found that a number of “experts from pesticide companies are involved in defining which tests are required to verify the safety of new pesticides under the EU pesticides directive (4).
Because the EU institutions do not have their own expertise on bees, the Commission has outsourced advice on new guidelines to the International Committee of Plant-Bee Relationship (ICPBR), which has set up a working group to look at the impacts of pesticides on bees. Representatives from pesticide manufacturers including Bayer Crop Science, Syngenta and BASF all sit on this group and it is responsible for designing and recommending the methodologies for the risk assessments of bees' exposure to pesticides which are then approved by the EU institutions.
Francesco Panella, professional beekeeper and spokesperson for the European Beekeeping Coordination explained:“There is evidence that suggests pesticides may be playing a key part in the high death rate among bees. Given the importance of the bee population, we believe the cumulative impacts of pesticides must be investigated under adequate safety procedures. But experts from industry have vetoed these proposals and said that there is no reason for concern.
These experts have put forward safety tests which would allow pesticides that destroy as many as a third of bees in a hive to be classified as safe – a rate of loss that would allow a rapid decline in bee numbers and make bee keeping unviable.
Francesco Panella continued:“Industry is being allowed to set its own rules and the result will be disastrous for Europes bee population.
“It is essential for our environment, our flora and our fauna that the Commission and member states ensure that the expertise on which they base their decisions is not biased by companies profit motive. It is not only our bees and beekeeping sector that are at stake, but our environment.
(1) Is the future of bees in the hands of the pesticide lobby? European Beekeeping Coordination and Corporate Europe Observatory, November 2010See http://www.corporateeurope.org/agribusiness/content/2010/11/future-bees
(3) The peak of new bee colony collapses happened in spring 2008 in France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia where there was found to be a high load of neurotoxic pesticides in the atmosphere. Neurotoxic pesticides include neonicotinoids (nicotine-based) which are applied “systemically to the plant – by coating the seeds, injecting the plant or irrigating with the pesticide. This results in the presence of the pesticide throughout the plant, including in the pollen.
(4) The toxicity and other characteristics of pesticides and their active substances must be evaluated in order to get authorisation for marketing in the EU. In accordance with European Directive 91/414/EEC, the pesticide active substances are approved at European level. The annexes of this directive (Annex II and III of Council Directive 91/414 of 15 July 1991) is currently under review.