Bees at Risk: Near-total Ban of Neonicotinoids Backed by ECJ


On Thursday 17 May 2018 the Court of Justice of the European Union backed a near-total ban of three pesticides, also called neonicotinoids (clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid), because of their scientifically proven serious harmful effect on the health of both wild bees and honey bees. Neonicotinoids are part of a class of insecticides that damage the central nervous system of insects that result in paralysis and death.

Bayer and Syngenta, the manufacturers of these three types of insecticides went to the Court in 2013 to stop the ban of these chemicals. But the Court dismissed “in their entirety the actions brought by Bayer and Syngenta in relation to the neonicotinoids clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid."

After an extensive updated assessment which was based on more than 1,500 studies, involving wild bees (bumblebees, solitary bees) and honeybees, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that these three insecticides are harmful for bees. These pesticides can no longer be used in the open field but their use is still allowed inside permanent greenhouses.

Report of the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA)

The report of the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) also shows that neonicotinoid use can lead to wider contamination of the soil and water which in turn could lead to consumption of contaminated water by bees and a spread of the pesticides to wildflowers or succeeding crops. This consequently poses a high risk to bees. Scientific research has revealed that 75% of global honey samples are contaminated with bee harming insecticides and chemicals.

The report of the EFSA resulted in a vote of EU member states in favour of an almost complete ban on the use of pesticides connected to harming bees.

Decline of bee population worldwide

There are over 25.000 known species of bee worldwide. The population of bees has been on a decline in the past few years. For example, several Hawaiian bee species and the US Bumblebee species have been put on the list of extinction. The main causes of their extinction are blood sucking parasites (varrao mites) and the use of insecticides.

Bees play an important role in our ecosystem and also have a big economic value. Bees are responsible for the pollination of a wide range of plants and crops. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of the worldwide food supply, 71 are dependent on bees for pollination.

The loss of the bee population worldwide would have a detrimental impact on our food chain, and therefore would pose a serious threat to human survival. It is necessary to monitor the health of bees and maintain healthy bee stocks. The European Commission has taken steps to diagnose and prevent bees’ mortality, for example by banning certain bee harming pesticides. Recently the EU Bee Partnership, which aims at improving the collection, management and sharing of data concerning bee health in Europe was launched.

The decision of the ECJ is expected to come into force by the end of 2018.