(CN) – Three neonicotinoid insecticides will remain banned in Europe, the General Court ruled Thursday, finding the measures justified to protect honeybees.
In addition to banning any use of the chemicals, indoors or outdoors, by nonprofessionals, the commission made it illegal to use the chemicals as fertilizers on barley, millet, oats, rice, rye, sorghum, triticale and wheat.
Between January and June, when those grains are being sown, the regulation bars any use for seed treatment or soil treatment. Another hundred crops including rapeseed, soya, sunflowers and maize meanwhile must remain free of the chemicals as seed treatment, soil treatment or fertilizer, except in a greenhouse or, for foliar treatment, after flowering.
With the exception of seeds used in greenhouses, a subsequent regulation adopted in 2013 barred any marketing of seeds and crops treated with the substances.
All EU member states that authorized the chemicals previously had to withdraw such permissions, prompting challenges by Bayer CropScience, which produces and markets imidacloprid and clothianidin in the European Union, and Syngenta, which produces and markets thiamethoxam and treated seeds.
The Luxembourg-based General Court shut down their challenge Thursday, finding the regulations justified to protect pollinators.
Among those that celebrated the ruling this morning was the group Buglife — The Invertebrate Conservation Trust.
“This is great news for Europe’s bees and pollinators, and a good present for them for the first ‘World Bee Day’ on Sunday,” Buglife Chief Executive Matt Shardlow said in a statement. “We hope that the pesticide companies will now start to act responsibly, withdrawing neonicotinoid seed treatments globally and agreeing to test the wild bee safety of all new insecticides.”
But the group Greenpeace called it too early to celebrate, noting that the EU still authorizes the use of acetamiprid, thiacloprid, sulfoxaflor and flupyradifurone – all neonicotinoids — and various insecticides like cypermethrin, deltamethrin and chlorpyrifos.
“Failure to address the wider chemical burden on bees could mean that farmers simply replace banned chemicals with other permitted chemicals that may be just as harmful,” the group said in a statement.
Greenpeace urged the EU to ban all neonicotinoids, as is being considered in France. A footnote about this in Greenpeace’s press release notes that France is banning neonicotinoids as of Sept. 1, 2018, but certain uses will be allowed until July 1, 2020. In addition to the three chemicals banned across the EU, France is banning acetamiprid and thiaclopridm with the possibility of also including sulfoxaflor and flupyradifurone.
Greenpeace EU food policy adviser Franziska Achterberg called Thursday’s ruling an “indictment against corporate bullying that should spur the commission to act on other dangerous pesticides without fear of being challenged in court.”
The group Pesticide Action Network noted meanwhile that many EU member states have not endorsed bee guidance from the European Food Safety Authority because “of intense lobbying from the agrochemical industry.”
“This verdict clearly shows that the use of the bee guidance document is an essential tool to protect bees from the harmful effects of pesticides,” Martin Dermine, health and environment policy officer for the Pesticide Action Network said in a statement. “It is long overdue for member states to approve the guidance document when making any decisions about approvals of pesticides that potentially pose a threat to bee populations.”
Syngenta on the other hand said it stands by its challenge, taking aim at the increasing politicization of what it called “scientific and regulatory excellence in Europe.”
“We want to send a clear message that scientific innovation is in our view the only effective way to address the joint challenges of achieving food security and protecting the environment,” the company said in a statement out of Basel, Switzerland.
As for Bayer, the Monheim, Germany, company said Thursday’s “verdict requires in-depth analysis.”
“Bayer decided to pursue legal action to gain clarity on the legal basis of the commission’s decision, which – in Bayer’s opinion – was uncertain,” the company said in a statement. “Bayer remains convinced of the safety of its products when applied in accordance with the label instructions.”
A caption on the photo Bayer released with its statement warns that “the loss of neonicotinoid seed treatments will have a huge impact on European sugar beet growers.”
In a related ruling Thursday, the EU General Court sided with the German chemical company BASF regarding a separate 2013 ban on the insecticide fipronil.
Annulling these restrictions in part, the court said that the commission imposed them without assessing the consequences.
The group Buglife emphasized in its statement that “this pesticide has not been licensed for widespread use in the UK for many years.”
BASF has not returned a request for comment.