Ninety per cent of pesticides under threat from EU bee plans
SYNGENTA has warned up to 90 per cent of pesticides currently available to EU farmers could be banned under European Commission plans to widen its approach to protecting bees from agrochemicals.
The company is still seething at the way three neonicotinoid seed treatments, including its own Cruiser oilseed rape product, were suspended for two years by the European Commission earlier this year. Syngenta, along with Bayer, is challenging the suspension in the EU courts.
The Commission imposed the ban, following a vote by member states which failed to reach the required qualified majority, on the basis of a risk assessment on the impact on bee health of the three seed treatments by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Syngenta’s European regional director, Jon Parr described the process as ‘fundamentally flawed’ but claimed it could be about to be repeated in relation to a number of other products.
EFSA has recently published a document issuing guidance on the ‘risk assessment of plant protection products on bees’. Intended for policymakers in the context of the ongoing EU review of plant protection products (PPPs), it suggests a tiered risk assessment scheme ‘to ensure that the appropriate level of protection is achieved’.
Products will be assessed under a ‘simple and cost-effective first tier to more complex higher tier studies under field conditions’.
The document states that pesticides have ‘often been considered as one of the factors contributing to the decline of some insect pollinator species’ and highlights concerns at the ‘appropriateness’ of current risk assessment schemes.
EFSA views the protocols as a means of helping to fill in current gaps in knowledge about the impact on pollinators of neonicotinoids and other pesticides, which has hampered the debate about whether certain products should be banned.
But Mr Parr said he feared the assessment could lead to many more products being removed ‘without justification’.
“If they go about it in the same way they have gone about the neonicotinoid issue, then, without any exaggeration, you could lose 80 to 90 per cent of the available insecticides,” Mr Parr said.
He said the removal of more pesticides in this way would undermine his company’s efforts to bolster crop production with the help of more effective chemical usage.
“On one hand, it is the right thing for them to do, but there has to be an element of scientific basis and predictability. Otherwise it is not possible to make the investment necessary to successfully invent and develop new products,” he said.
Syngenta estimates that that suspension of its Cruiser neonicotinoid product will cost it $30-$50m in Europe. It said there were likely to be shortages of the product this autumn as it seeks to restrict production to levels that minimise wastage once the ban comes in.
In views shared by the UK Government, Mr Parr claimed EFSA’s findings in its neonicotinoid study leaned too heavily on laboratory studies in which bees were exposed to artificially high doses on chemicals.
Mr Parr claimed an ‘awful lot of good field data’ was ignored that showed the chemicals pose little risk to bees at the doses used in the field. This included a study by Syngenta, itself, that had not been peer reviewed at the time but is due to be published soon in a scientific journal soon.
“Once you discount all that data, it is very easy to conclude there are gaps in knowledge,” he said, describing EFSA and the Commissions’ approach as a ‘misuse of the precautionary principle’.
No risk assessment
Mr Parr said the Commission had also failed to carry out a proper assessment of the economic or environmental impact of removing the products.
He said the suspension, which comes into force on December 1, will leave famers with inferior products that are potentially more damaging to the environment.
“Make no mistake, this is the best technology out there. It is the most effective, with the lowest application rates. It is not possible to replace Cruiser. It will result in different less effective seed coating products and more foliar sprays,” he said.
Many factors, he added, are contributing to bee population decline, with the Commission, itself, in one study identifying pesticides as ‘only the 10th most important reason’, with the varroa mite and loss of habitat the two biggest factors.
He said it was ‘very gratifying’ that the likes of the US, Canada and Australia had all decided to retain the products after similar assessments.
A spokesman the European Commission’s health directorate said the Commission was ‘not going to respond to new claims by the industry’.
“The decision taken earlier this year was based on studies from EFSA which had raised some serious concerns,” he said.
“Some Member States disagreed, the companies in question obviously disagreed but we went ahead on the basis on scientific evidence put forward by EFSA
“If Syngenta has some scientific evidence, they’re perfectly entitled to submit them to EFSA. The decision has been adopted for two years and could be reviewed in light of new data.”
What the neonicotinoid suspension means
The ban the use of three neonicotinoid seed treatments - thiamethoxam, clothianidin and imidacloprid - applies to crops which are attractive to bees. OSR and maize treated with these products can be sold and drilled until November 30.
For more information on what the ban means, click here.