EU court upholds ban on bee killing neonicotinoid insecticides

May 10, 2021
By Eko Diena in 

Last week the European Court of Justice heard and dismissed a final appeal by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer, attempting to overturn a 2018 decision by a lower EU court to uphold a ban on three insecticides that have been clearly linked with killing bees.

The active neonicotinoid substances that are the subject of the ban are imidacloprid, developed by Bayer CropScience, clothianidin, developed by Takeda Chemical Industries and Bayer CropScience, and thiamethoxam developed by Syngenta.

First banned in 2013 by the European Commission, Bayer took the case to the EU General Court in May 2018 who upheld the ban, and again this May 6th, where they have again lost their appeal, with the verdict highlighting the importance of the EU 'precautionary principle' when it comes to defending wildlife.

The court made their decision after hearing defence arguments for the ban from organisations including Greenpeace, the Pesticides Action Network Europe, Beelife and Buglife. In addition to upholding the earlier ruling, the court also ruled that Bayer should pay legal costs incurred by the environmental groups and the European Commission.

Greenpeace EU legal strategist Andrea Carta said: “The Court of Justice has reaffirmed that protecting nature and people’s health takes precedence over the narrow economic interests of powerful multinationals and that the precautionary principle is a cornerstone of EU law. This means the EU has a responsibility and the power to ensure the safety of all pesticides, chemicals, GM crops and other dangerous products and substances.”

Sadly, this landmark decision does not mean an end to threats to bees and other pollinators in the EU. The neonicotinoids can not be used on maize, rapeseed and some spring cereals, but they are still legal to be used for other crops, such as sugar beet. Additionally several governments have circumvented the 2013 neonicotinoid ban by repeatedly granting temporary exemptions that allow the use of these banned substances.

Research also shows that several other pesticides currently used in the EU are a threat to bees and other pollinating insects, including four more neonicotinoids not covered by the 2013 ban, and governments have failed to reach an agreement on new testing guidelines for pesticides, in order to ensure that they do not harm bees, as required by EU laws on pesticides.

Andrea Carta added:“EU courts have again ruled that bees and other essential insects should be protected from dangerous pesticides, but governments continue to dish out exemptions and hold up attempts to put in place effective safety testing. This ruling shows they must adopt rigorous testing rules without further delay.

Bayer obviously disagrees with the decision, and their argument is that there is insufficient new scientific knowledge to justify the restrictions. A company spokesperson saying that they stand by the safety of their products and that "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 upholding of this ban is an important step in protecting bees across Europe, something that the EU appears to be taking quite seriously, with the European Commission proposing targets to cut the EU’s use of chemical pesticides by 50% and to reduce fertiliser use by 20% by 2030

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