Slow Food Europe: the EU Urgently Needs Rigorous Bee Safety Standards

Ahead of the meeting of the European Commission’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF), Slow Food Europe urges its members to support the implementation of toxicity assessment standards and to take responsibility to effectively protect bees from harmful pesticides. Member States in the PAFF Committee have been procrastinating on a formal EU-wide adoption of bee safety standards, developed in the so-called Bee Guidance Document several years ago. On July 16-17, they are expected to vote on the implementation of a tiny part of the document which would help to halt the usage of bee-killing pesticides.

Photo by Sudipta Mondal from Pexels

Slow Food Europe is concerned that, in the absence of strict safety rules, many dangerous pesticides will continue to be used, and more come to the market, rendering the much-celebrated ban of three neonicotinoid pesticides in 2018 redundant.

“Last year, Member States supported an EU ban on three neonicotinoids, based on strict bee safety standards for pesticides. But it seemingly does not want to apply the same stringent standards to all other pesticides. This inconsistent stance opens the door to bee-harming pesticides, exacerbating the pollinator crisis. The EU has to make sure this doesn’t happen,” says Mauro Pizzato, the Beekeeping Project officer of Slow Food.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) presented new rules for the assessment of risks posed by pesticides to bees and pollinators in 2013, to replace outdated standards dating back to 2001. These high standards are detailed in EFSA’s Bee Guidance Document. However, the new rules have only been fully applied in the assessment of three neonicotinoids (imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam) which, consequently, were banned in the EU for all outdoor uses in 2018. Nevertheless, these three pesticides are not alone in posing a risk to bees; other substances have also been shown to impact bees’ health as a result of acute or chronic exposure.

Until today, EU national governments have failed to endorse the use of the 2013 Bee Guidance Document in other pesticide authorizations. Now, the European Commission is suggesting to only apply a very small subset of the new rules, and mandating EFSA to revise the bulk of them. The cases of Lithuania and Romania, where emergency authorizations of bee-harming neonicotinoids have been repeatedly granted, are also worrying as they clearly demonstrate the reluctance of Member States to support the stricter rules.

Slow Food Europe has been part of a joint Europe-wide action, which gathered beekeepers and environmental groups across Europe to demand their national agriculture ministries to implement bee safety standards. In May, Slow Food’s local group of beekeepers and activists met with the Ministry of Agriculture in Rome and handed in a petition signed by over 230,000 citizens, calling on European decision-makers to protect the bees.

The introduction of pesticides has sent the equilibrium between agriculture and the bees into crisis, harming non-target species, leaving pesticide residue in the environment and the food chain even many years after their use. The recent FAO report on biodiversity has shown significant declines in the number of birds and insects, in particular bees and other pollinators, naming pesticides as one of the main drivers. Bees are indispensable for our food production. They pollinate over 80% of food crops, including the healthiest ones such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

Indre Anskaityte, Slow Food Europe

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