The three most commonly sold neonicotinoid insecticides, clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, alone dominate 85% of the market, worth US$2.236 billion in 2009. The European Food Safety Agency (www.efsa.europa.eu) spoke out about their harmfulness to bees and other pollinating insects not long ago, in January this year, pointing out that they represent a serious threat to the survival of bee colonies.
More so than any other scientific study by public and independent researchers, and more so than all the other denunciations made by beekeeping associations or organizations including Slow Food, this study triggered a seismic shift. The regulations regarding the use and abuse of chemicals in agriculture were reviewed, leading to consultations among member states and two votes, the first on March 15 and the second on April 29.
The final result was only partially satisfactory: 15 member states voted in favor of a ban—including, surprisingly, Germany, which in the past had supported these systemic insecticides—4 abstained and 8 voted against the suspension. The fact that one of the votes against came from the United Kingdom was no surprise, given its long-standing pro-chemical position, but the real shock was Italy. Deaf to the pleading of civil society and perhaps ignorant of the latest scientific data, the country inexplicably reversed its previously pro-ban position. Naturally, we are not happy about this. Another reason for concern is the fact that the majority in favor of banning neonicotinoids was not large enough to proclaim a definitive ban, just a temporary moratorium. So in two years, Europe will again have to decide on the future of its bees.
What else do we need to make us open our eyes? To make us decide, once and for all, to definitively stop using the notorious three neonicotinoids, as well as fipronil, recently denounced in an EFSA report, as well as chlopyriphos, cypermethrin and deltamethrin, which Greenpeace accused in its report Bees in Decline. Is it not enough to hear the beekeepers describing the weakening and increased mortality of European bee colonies—up by 20% in the last winters, and ranging between 1.8% and 53% in different countries? Or to know that bees are increasingly struggling to find food and that these poisons effectively intoxicate them, making it often impossible for them to find their hive and unable to recognize scents? Is it not enough to realize how close the correlation is between pollination and biodiversity, to see that the ecosystems in which bees can carry out their role as pollinators have a higher percentage of biodiversity and are able to produce more food? Is it not enough to constantly see evidence of the fact that monocultures, herbicides and reduced biodiversity are the ingredients in an explosive mix that makes it harder and harder for bees and useful insects to survive, and which is impoverishing our diet?
Evidently not. Europe is working on it, but it is still far from a more determined realization of the risks. A two-year moratorium is still too soft a measure for us to celebrate. We will, with great pleasure, when the impact of the insecticides is evaluated from all angles, when we can be sure of the effects, whether of an isolated insecticide or a lethal cocktail that also includes herbicides and fungicides. When we tell ourselves that this, the health and survival of bees and pollinating insects, is another reason to abandon chemical-based agriculture and decisively choose agro-ecological practices.