Su­per­mar­ket emp­ties shelves to high­light grow­ing threat to bees

The Irish Times - - World News - DEREK SCALLY in Ber­lin

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.

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