Supermarket empties shelves to highlight growing threat to bees
A German supermarket has emptied its shelves of thousands of products pollinated by bees to highlight the growing threat to the insects posed by chemicals.
Apples, baked goods, courgettes, marinated meats and even chamomile-scented toilet paper were removed by the Penny discount chain ahead of today’s decision by an EU court to uphold a partial 2013 European ban on three insecticides.
The European Commission ban on the chemicals known as neonicotinoids covers two active substances developed by Bayer CropScience – imidacloprid and clothianidin – as well as Syngenta’s thiamethoxam.
The general court of the European Union upheld the ban in confirmation of the EU’s “precautionary principle”, which allows the commission to take preventive measures to preserve human health or the environment even if scientific uncertainty over long-term harm remains. But the court annulled restrictions on the use of BASF’s fipronil, a different class of pesticide, because the commission had failed to carry out a proper assessment of the impact of a ban.
Maize and rapeseed
Since 2013 it has been illegal to spray neonicotinoids on maize and rapeseed in the EU but it is permissible for other crops such as sugar beet.
Facing a widespread phenomenon of bee deaths in colonies across Europe, the commission review and today’s ruling follow a growing debate about the consequences of chemical use in farming.
Last month EU countries backed a proposal to ban all use of neonicotinoids outdoors, allowing only limited use in greenhouses. Syngenta and Bayer said they were disappointed with the ruling, which can be appealed within the next two months, insisting its products were safe when used properly. They said a link between pesticides and bee mortality had yet to be proved conclusively and that insecticide bans would see farmers return to less safe chemicals.
Environment group Greenpeace said the court’s ruling “sets the EU’s priorities straight . . . to protect people and nature, not company profit margins”. Wild bees, butterflies and other insects are estimated to have a global economic benefit of ¤500 billion. However, their population has decreased “drastically” in the last two decades, according to Prof Gerlind Lehmann of Berlin’s Humboldt University.
German supermarket chain Penny says 60 per cent of its 2,500 products are directly or indirectly dependent on bee pollination. Lower Saxony’s environment minister Olaf Lies praised the campaign, saying it “showed to us in a frighteningly clear way the consequences of unchecked insect mortality”.
Wild bees, butterflies and other insects are estimated to have a global economic benefit of ¤500 billion.