A two-year moratorium on the systemic insecticides known as neonicotinoids is slated to kick in no later than Dec. 1 throughout the European Union. The decision was left up to the European Commission after member states failed to come to a qualified majorityagain — on whether to initiate the two-year ban.

The measure would apply to the application of imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and clothianidin on corn, oil seed rape (canola), apples, carrots, strawberries and other flowering crops.

The UK, along with seven other member states, voted against the ban. Before the vote, the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Mark Walport publicly opposed the proposal in a Financial Times editorial, painting an apocalyptic outcome of “a resurgence of crop diseases, reduced crop yeilds and economic damage to struggling European economies.” As a science adviser, Walport made a few of his own questionable hypotheses that probably wouldn’t hold up to a seventh-grade scientific method run-through. On the one hand he stressed the need for “rich ecosystems,” but then also noted the need to target our “foe” insects with pesticides, while making sure to spare our “friends.” Last I checked, an ecosystem was an equal opportunity employer, running on a vast interconnected network of friends and foes — sort of like an earthy round of Kumbaya ’round the fire…right?

Walport did acknowledge, however, that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees. Still, he said further tests would be needed to determine if neonicotinoids applied under “official guidelines” would still be harmful to bees.

It should come as no surprise that pesticides kill insects — the “good,” the bad, and the ugly ones — but neonicotinoids are particularly toxic because they are absorbed into the plant’s tissue and manifest in pollen and nectar. Furthermore, when treated seeds are planted, the chemicals can persist in soil for months or years after the initial application. This is why application guidelines don’t count for a whole lot…

The European Food Safety Authority’s study — which prompted the ban proposal in the first place — measured neonicotinoid exposure in nectar, pollen, dust (from planting), and guttation fluid, and found “lethal effects” when honeybees were exposed to neonics in field dust when planting with a conventional seeder.

While industry lobbyists continue to use the argument that there isn’t a direct link to neonics and Colony Collapse Disorder, the fact remains that these insecticides are toxic for honeybees and contribute to their decline. This Xerces Society study outlines it nicely.

There is no direct link demonstrated between neonicotinoids and the honey bee syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). However, recent research suggests that neonicotinoids may make honey bees more susceptible to parasites and pathogens, including the intestinal parasite Nosema, which has been implicated as one causative factor in CCD.

Indeed, like that “rich ecosystem,” the honeybee colony is quite complex — if only we could just wipe out the foes! But really, this graphic illustrates the frustration felt by many beekeepers this year.

And actually, to his credit, here’s where Walport makes a valid point.

But we will be making a serious mistake if we think that the challenge to pollinators will be fixed simply by banning neonicotinoid pesticides. Instead, we need a comprehensive action plan exploring the complex factors behind their decline. We must develop and evaluate methods of increasing the diversity of flowering plants in landscapes increasingly dominated by human cultivation. We need to develop new tools including the use of novel cultural practices, natural plant defence mechanisms, and the use of biocontrol measures for instance, deploying predators.

Still, despite his efforts, and the apparent detriment to the struggling EU, the European Commission plans on moving ahead with the ban.

And while Walport lamented for more time and research in the name of “science” (and neonicotinoids), Tonio Borg, Health and Consumer Commissioner, also honed in on fixing our “ecosystem,” but through a polar opposite approach. “I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over €22 billion annually to European agriculture, are protected,” he said in a statement.

So whether it’s friend vs foe, good insect or bad insect, or politician against politician, there can only be one ecosystem. Everyone play nice now.

Countries that voted against the ban were: the UK, Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Austria and Portugal.
Ireland, Lithuania, Finland and Greece abstained.
Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Spain, France, Cyprus, Germany, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden voted in favor.


May 1, 2013