Green Right Now Reports

Resisting industry pressure, a majority of European Union nations voted on Monday to ban bee-killing pesticides for two years.

Bee on Flower PROMOThe temporary ban, hailed by environmentalists, will begin in December and affects flowering crops that appeal to bees.  Three neonicotinoid pesticides are a class of pesticides that have been blamed for massive bee losses around the world in recent years, though whether they are the key culprit or one of many threats tipping the scales against the bees remains a point of vigorous debate.

The three restricted pesticides, imidacloprid and clothianidin made by Germany-based Bayer, and thiamethoxam, produced by Syngenta, will be banned across the European Union after 15 of 27 nations voted for the moratorium (4 abtained; Great Britain opposed the ban; Germany, Spain and France voted for the ban).

“Today’s pesticide ban throws Europe’s bees a vital lifeline, following a massive campaign backed by 2.6 million people. Europe is taking science seriously and must now put the full ban in place, to give bees the breathing space they need,” said Iain Keith, a senior campaigner for Avaaz, a global community action group that pushed for the ban. 

All three of the pesticides are all still allowed for use in the United States. While the European Union officials decided that these pesticides are worth singling out in the effort to save bees, the US EPA has taken a different approach.

The EPA has declared that the “prevailing theory” in the science community is that pesticides are only one of many possible “stressors” harming the bees. Those other stressors include inadequate food, diseases, habitat loss and poor bee management, according to the agency.

The head of Syngenta criticized the European decision as being based on “poor science” that ignores evidence that the neonicotinoid pesticides do not harm bees.

The three pesticides are widely used to control aphids and other pests in crops. They are taken up internally by the crop plants which then impart the toxins to insects that eat the plant’s leaves or come in contact with the pollen.

Studies have shown that neonicotinoids act on the nervous systems of the insects and in the case of bees cause them to become disoriented. This neurological attack appears to trigger Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) , a phenomenon in which honey bees fail to return to their hives, causing mass die offs.

The situation has grown dire for beekeepers and farmers in recent years as bee mortalities have increased since the discovery of CCD in 2006. Beekeepers have reported 30 to 90 percent die offs in a given year, according to the USDA. That has threatened agricultural crops that depend upon natural pollination carried out by honey bees. Almond production in California is just one example of a crop that depends upon bee pollination and would be virtually impossible without honey bees.

The Xerces Society estimates that two-thirds of the world’s crops depend upon pollinators, including more than 100 crops in the U.S.. While the group has stopped short of blaming neonicotinoids alone for CCD, it advocates for pesticide-free agriculture and urges people to stop using chemicals in home gardens.

The move by the EU follows a report this past winter that found neonicotinoids appear to be a key factor in CCD.

In the United States, the government has taken no action to control the three neonicotinoids being banned in Europe.

The USDA  reports that scientists are looking at four main categories of possible causes for bee deaths, including pathogens, parasites, management stressors (moving bees around) and environmental stressors.

That last category — environmental stressors — includes looking at “pollen scarcity” (presumably because of the lack of diversity of plant life in modern agriculture), limited access to water and “accidental or intentional exposure to pesticides at lethal or sub-lethal levels.”

The USDA further points out on its website that a survey of honey bee colonies revealed “no consistent pattern in pesticide levels between healthy and CCD-affected colonies” when pollen, bees and beeswax were tested for the presence of 170 pesticides.

Action by the US EPA also does not appear imminent.

The EPA reports that the science is “still progressing” as regulators “seek to learn what regulatory changes, if any, may be effective.”

The prevailing theory is that “declining health of honey bees in general is related to complex interactions among multiple stressors that these organisms encounter, including inadequate food sources (nutrition), diseases (bacteria, fungi and viruses), habitat loss and bee management practices, as well as pesticides,” according to the EPA website on CCD.