EU protects bees from pesticides

Bee pollinates a flower
Bees offer significant services to agriculture by transferring pollen between flowering crops.

The European Commission has confirmed restrictions on the neonicotinoid family of pesticides, a primary suspect for the decline of bees in recent years. The restrictions will begin this December and remain in effect for two years, when the results of the restrictions will be evaluated. The restrictions were pushed through by the European Commission after a vote in the European Parliament failed to gain the required qualified majority.

Bees help our agriculture by transferring pollen from one plant to another, enabling them to produce seeds, which we then use or process for food, or to grow more crops. Their services are so important that the reduction of their numbers in recent years has alarmed food and agriculture organizations worldwide.

Truck transports beehives for commercial pollination
Truckloads of beehives offer commercial pollination services in areas where natural bee populations are not large enough to achieve the pollination required for intense agriculture. As natural populations decline, these services become increasingly valuable and expensive.

Although there is no doubt that bees and other wild pollinators are declining, the results of scientific studies on the effect of the decline on agriculture are not as clear. Some studies indicate that crop productivity has remained stable or increased at the same time when bee populations have declined significantly, making it difficult to indicate a correlation. The same researchers, however, accept that the loss of pollinator services can contribute to a decline in agricultural productivity in the future.

In Europe and North America, the number of honeybee colonies has plummeted and most wild bee colonies have been lost. In some areas, farmers have to rely on promoted pollination, keeping their own bee farms alongside their crops or brining in trucks with artificial beehives. While these can replace the gaps left by the decline of wild pollinators, they also carry hidden dangers; a sharp reduction in the biodiversity of pollinators means that agriculture is more exposed to risks from disease outbreaks or weather changes that could affect the few remaining species of pollinators.

Following recent results indicating that neonicitinoids, a widely used group of insecticides used in agriculture, are an unacceptable risk to honeybees and other declining pollinators, Europe's Food Safety Authority proposed a two-year control on the use of the chemicals, leading to the recent restrictions proposals. At the same time, however, the United States Department of Agriculture has "withheld judgment on neonicotinoids", in effect extending the approval of their use. Such lack of global concensus may be unavoidable at the moment. It is hoped that the restrictions in Europe will give research groups the opportunity to produce robust results with more conclusive evidence.

Written by Nikos Vallianos | .

Tags: European Union, pollination, pesticides, bees, conservation