Europe fails to ban insecticide today, U.S. study says it harms bees

The European Union Commission failed to ban the use of farm insecticides know as neonicotinoids Friday. Photo: Honeybee

FREDERIC, Wis., March 15, 2013 — The European Union Commission failed to ban the use of farm insecticides know as neonicotinoids Friday. The United Kingdom and Germany abstained from voting, essentially blocking the passage of the proposed two-year ban among its 27-state members.

Thirteen nations voted in favor of the ban, five abstaining and nine opposing. This final tally left no majority for or against the temporary ban.

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This outcome prevailed in spite of the EU’s own Food Safety Authority saying the use of neonicotinoids posed an “unacceptable risk” to honey bees and other unintended insects harmed by the poisonous chemicals.

“The result leaves environmental campaigners, scientists and some politicians bitterly disappointed,” said Iain Keith, a spokesperson for Avaaz, a global activist organization working to ban neonicotinoids in The Guardian newspaper. “Britain and Germany have caved in to the industry lobby and refused to ban bee-killing pesticides.”

The world’s leading producer of neonicotinoids hailed the vote as a victory for farmers in Europe and around the globe.

“Bayer CropScience welcomes the fact that no consensus was reached by the EU,” said a statement on the company’s Web site. “This provides hope to European farmers, that they can continue to have access to safe and effective crop protection.”

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The fact that the European countries could not reach a consensus on the effects of neonicotinoids shows a continued controversy over its use. 

It also means its use will continue.

“The failure to reach a conclusive decision is a clear recognition that there is no convincing argument against the continuing use of neonicotinoid-based products,” said Bayer.

The use of neonicotinoid pesticides is authorized in the U.S. by the federal government. In spite of this week’s vote across the Atlantic, critics here have asked officials to take another look.

The EPA said it is now, “accelerating the schedule for registration review of the neonicotinoid pesticides because of uncertainties about these pesticides and their potential effects on bees.”

In addition to this, a prominent university study on honey bees is set to show “significant” harmful effects on the queen bee, causing the decline of colony population and making the entire hive dangerously vulnerable to sickness and death.

“We are testing if neonicotinoids cause harm to a colony by inhibiting the colony from building up and producing brood,” said Marla Spivak, Distinguished McKnight Professor at the University of Minnesota. “A smaller and weaker colony is more susceptible to disease, pests, and other environmental pesticides thus increasing the risk of mortality.”

The Midwest university is respected worldwide for its development of hygienic bees and other novel research in bee science.

“The finding that the laying queen is adversely affected by the neonicotinoids is the thesis,” said Dr. Spivak. “The approach has not been done before and is in line with the new risk assessment procedure that the EPA has proposed.”

The study is scheduled for publication by the year’s end. But The Communities@The Washington Times Community obtained a preview of the study.

“I’m seeing some dramatic affects on the queen’s ability to lay eggs,” said Judy Wu, lead doctoral researcher on the project. “Queens in my colonies that have been treated with neonicotinoids tend to not move very much at all. They are not laying and not active; this is directly inhibiting the colony’s ability to rebuild.”

The university stresses their study does not show neonicotinoids “directly” kill bees. Rather they have an indirect “sub-lethal” effect on the colony, like the queen’s ability to lay eggs.

A healthy queen will lay about 1,000 eggs a day in the hive. The university study will show a “statistically significant” reduction in egg laying, said Dr. Spivak.

If the queen’s ability to populate the colony is seriously diminished, it could ultimately mean death for the entire hive.

“What we’re interested in showing the world is that you can cause harm to a colony and indirectly cause the colony death by making a colony so weak that they succumb to pesticides, mites or viruses,” said Wu. “It doesn’t need to be the hammer that kills the colony… but a weak colony can’t do very much at all.”

But a leading researcher at Bayer said he is familiar with the Minnesota study and questions it.

“All chemicals are toxic,” said Dave Fischer, Bayer’s director of environmental toxicology and risk assessment. “What differentiates a poison from a remedy is the dose.”

 It is like some medicines, it can cure or kill depending on how much you take.

“The important thing to find out in a toxicology study is not just whether an effect happens, but at what exposure level it happens,” asked Dr. Fischer. “Is it a high dose affect, or is it a low dose affect? That’s the key question.”

The bees in the Minnesota study are being fed a “level” of neonicotinoids they’d “normally” get in the field, said a researcher in the Entomology Department. Asked to reconfirm the dosage level, the university declined to respond.

Some EU members said they will appeal today’s decision and ask for another vote. The EU Commission “said it would decide whether to go to appeal, or revise the proposal, in the next week.”

You can email Wayne Anderson at or get a wider understanding of him on his website at

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Wayne Anderson

Wayne Anderson is a warm beekeeper in northwest Wisconsin, who travels the world as a freelance news correspondent for Communities at The Washington Times and other fine media, covering the wars in the Middle East, reporting on and running from pirates off the coast of East Africa and sharing with readers the wonders of beekeeping in the strangest places around the world. 

Buzz on Bees is a column promoting the love and life of God’s greatest pollinators on earth: The Honeybee. Send me your input and column ideas. And I will work as busy as a bee to get them in print.   

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