Bees are buzzing about pesticide ban

Environmental groups celebrate the ban of pesticides linked to decline in bee populations, but agricultural associations warn the ban could lead to further environmental damage

The EU’s decision to ban three neonicotinoid pesticides has prompted mixed reactions in Denmark.

The ban arrives in the wake of growing concern about dwindling bee numbers linked to the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in a recent study by the European Food Safety Organisation.

Only 15 of 27 EU member states supported the ban, which was implemented last week by the European Commission.

"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,” the EU’s health and consumer commissioner, Tonion Borg, stated in a press release.

The Copenhagen-based European Environment Agency (EEA) welcomed the ban of the pesticides.

“Based on the body of evidence, we can see that it is absolutely correct to take a precautionary approach and ban these chemicals,” EEA's executive director, Jacqueline McGlade, said in a press release.

Addressing the concerns of farmers, she added that agricultural productivity has not dropped in France following its unilateral ban of the chemicals on sunflowers and maize since 2004.

“Any economic analysis should consider the almost immeasurable value of pollination carried out by honeybees and other wild bees," McGlade said. "Indeed, continuing to use these chemicals would risk a vital service that underpins European agriculture.”

That view was shared by Oliver Maxwell, the director of Bybi, an urban beekeeping organisation that produces honey from beehives located on top of buildings – including the EEA.

“It’s a really rare piece of good news that the EU has found the courage to stand up to heavy lobbying from bio-agriculture firms and listen to grassroots campaigns,” Maxwell told The Copenhagen Post. “Plants aren’t here just for our enjoyment – millions of species depend on them and we all depend on each other.”

Not everyone is convinced by the science linking neonicotinoid use to bee deaths, however. Torben Hansen, the chairman of plant production at agricultural trade association Landbrug & Fødevarer, argues the ban is based on thin science and will lead to farmers using alternative pesticides that are even more damaging to the environment.

“There have been no recorded bee die-offs in Denmark caused by these pesticides,” Hansen told agricultural newspaper, LandbrugsAvisen, “Idealism has won because the proposal is based on undocumented and unscientific position. In two to three years, the environment minister is going to be angry with us for not hitting our targets to reduce pesticide use.”

Dansk Planteværn, a trade association representing the pest control industry, argued that the ban would particularly affect Denmark's rape seed producers.

“The industry finds that the European Commission’s proposal will prevent agriculture from using the most gentle cultivation methods and instead force them to resort to other and older methods that pose even greater risks to the environment,” it states on its website.

Despite these concerns, the Danish eco-council, Det Økologiske Råd, argued that the ban didn’t go far enough.

“The ban is a big step forward but if we want the world’s population of bees to survive and protect biodiversity, more needs to be done,” spokesperson Eline Aggerholm stated in a press release. “We need a total ban on neonicotinoids and it can’t happen soon enough.”

According to figures from the national beekeepers association, Danmarks Biavlerforening, 22 percent of the country's honeybees died over the winter, which is nearly twice as many deaths as usual.

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