EU Bans Controversial Pesticide in the Name of Bees

Illustration for article titled EU Bans Controversial Pesticide in the Name of Bees
Photo: AP

Let’s pop some champagne this weekend: The European Union decided Friday to ban all outdoor use of neonicotinoids, insecticides that have been linked to wild bee population declines and stunted colony growth.

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Neonicotinoids are the most widely used group of insecticides in the world, and the European Union’s been studying their impacts on bees since 2012. In 2013, it passed a two-year moratorium on three neonicotinoids (clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam) after findings pointed to potential risks to honeybees.

An analysis from the European Food Safety Authority earlier this year heightened concerns, finding that pesticides contaminate soil, nectar, and pollen too. Now, this moratorium has become permanent. It will go into effect by the end of 2018.

“All outdoor uses will be banned and the neonicotinoids in question will only be allowed in permanent greenhouses where exposure of bees is not expected,” the European Commission said in a statement, per Reuters.

What’s the big deal, you ask? Look, I get bees can be annoying, especially when they sting. One afternoon, I walked into my kitchen to find a drove of bees building a hive in the wall next to the window. They were getting into my Brooklyn apartment, and, well, it was terrifying. So believe me: I get it.

We need bees, though. They’re not just wonderful creators of honey. They pollinate the shit out of fruit, nuts, and even spice crops like mustard. They die, and our food supply is hit—hard. Pollinators, including bees, birds, and bats, help drive one-third of the food production worldwide. The insecticides bees are ingesting are already making their way into the world’s honey supply. The levels are low enough to be fine for humans, but this shows how widespread the contamination is.

So environmentalists are praising this recent development. Farmers and developers of these pesticides, on the other hand, aren’t too happy. They err more on the side of skepticism.

“European agriculture will suffer as a result of this decision,” said Graeme Taylor, public affairs director of the European Crop Protection Association, to The Guardian. “Perhaps not today, perhaps not tomorrow, but in time decision makers will see the clear impact of removing a vital tool for farmers.”

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Regardless of what opponents have to say, the ban is a go. Sure, folks on the other side might respond with lawsuits (like they did in 2013), but a few facts remain clear: We need honeybees, and they are dying off.

Anything that helps them hang on seems like a win.

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Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

DISCUSSION

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If you’re wondering what the hell are neonicotinoids, but afraid to ask, here’s a nice survey paper on the exact topic:

Systemic insecticides (neonicotinoids and fipronil): trends, uses, mode of action and metabolites

[Caution this is satire: or just assume neonicotinoids have similar pesticide control as cigarette butts. Birds know this. For comment section solutions, we could all simply start smoking and flick our butts all over the place. Not a good suggestion]

Here’s a quick history from the nice survey paper linked above:

Over the following two decades, neonicotinoids have become the most widely used insecticides of the five major chemical classes (the others being organophosphates, carbamates, phenyl-pyrazoles, and pyrethroids) on the global market (Jeschke and Nauen 2008; Jeschke et al. 2011; Casida and Durkin 2013).

The French company Rhône-Poulenc Agro (now Bayer CropScience) discovered and developed fipronil between 1985 and 1987 (Tingle et al. 2003), reaching the market in 1993 (Tomlin 2000). It is noteworthy that substances belonging to the phenyl-pyrazole family have in principal herbicidal effects, whereas fipronil is a potent insecticide.

All the major inputs companies are merging, divesting and rebranding “crop science” or seeds and chemicals inputs or pesticides and fertilizers. ChemChina is slowly merging with Syngenta (Swiss) and Bayer is merging with Monsanto. The other big one is the merged crop sciences divisions of Dow and Dupont. So Europe doesn’t give a fuck, since most of the application is going to US, South America and Asia.

Here’s the commercial neonicotnoids as of 2011 or so:

Seven separate neonicotinoid compounds are available commercially worldwide (Jeschke et al. 2011). These are imidacloprid and thiacloprid (developed by Bayer CropScience), clothianidin (Bayer CropScience and Sumitomo), thiamethoxam (Syngenta), acetamiprid (Nippon Soda), nitenpyram (Sumitomo), and dinotefuran (Mitsui Chemicals). An eighth compound, sulfoxaflor (Zhu et al. 2010), has recently come onto the market in China (Shao et al. 2013b) and the USA (Dow Agro Sciences 2013; USEPA 2013) and has been reviewed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for approval in the European Union (EFSA 2014). In China, new neonicotinoid compounds are being developed and tested (e.g., guadipyr and huanyanglin), and are nearing market release (Shao et al. 2013b; Shao et al. 2013b).

To see where pesticides including neonicotinoids are used in the United States, here’s a wonder publicly available source from USGS.

For example, here’s where one of the neonicotinoids is applied per USGS map linked above:

USGS is interested in all this because it was tasked to monitor groundwater contamination, i.e. hydrogeology thus USGS. Trump along with Scott Pruitt and Sonny Perdue (USDA head) want to get USGS out of the groundwater protection business and focus only on finding oil, gas, coal, and metals. MAGA! Fucking assholes.