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Europe’s battle for the bees and the banning of neonicotinoid pesticides

Contributed on 15.02.2017 by Douglas Mascarenhas-Keyes 

In December 2013, bee lovers rejoiced as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) imposed a 2-year temporary ban which is still in place on three neonicotinoid pesticides believed to be killing off millions of the continent’s bees. Yet the temporary ban is currently being challenged in European courts by huge chemical pesticide companies as the EFSA continues to delay its review and ultimate decision until autumn 2017.


Bees in Europe have been declining for a number of years, mainly down to bee-harming pesticides, destruction of wildflower habitats, and harmful farming practices amongst others. Their vital and often understated role in our lives may soon cease to exist. Bees they ensure pollination for over 80% of crops and wild plants in Europe, and contribute at least 22 billion EUR each year to the European agriculture industry.


The key problem facing bees in Europe are the increasingly industrial and toxic forms of agricultural farming, and especially the use of increasingly chemical pesticides. Pesticides are a toxic substance designed to kill living things that may affect the success of the crop, ranging from weeds and insects to fungus and rodents. However, they also have an adverse effect on the environment through soil and water contamination and affect non-target organisms such as birds, fish and bees. Although pesticide use has become inevitable in modern agriculture, their increasing toxicity and the emergence of certain neonicotinoid pesticides have been scientifically linked to the global crash of bee populations and detrimental effects to the environment. Neonicotinoids are lab-synthesised pesticides based on the chemical structure of nicotine, are designed to be absorbed by the growing plant and attack the nervous system of insect pests such as aphids, leafhoppers and whiteflies. A number of studies assessing the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on bees increasingly link the emergence and greater use of these pesticides to declining bee populations. 


As mentioned, in 2013 three of these neonicotinoid pesticides were banned across the EU following a vote of European Member States, though its result has and continues to be vigorously opposed by multi-national petrochemical companies as well as some EU states. Despite the mounting evidence, the case is ongoing though nearing its final stages. A coalition of organisations and campaigns called the ‘Bee defenders Alliance’ have and continue to take on the lobby by fighting to uphold and strengthen the EU ban. The Alliance are the ‘voice of beekeepers and independent scientists’, and fighting against the rolling out of these pesticides across the EU and around the world.


The threat of extinction of bees is looming large, yet the Alliance’s successes in persuading pesticide bans in France which became the first country to ban these chemicals last will hopefully be enforced across the EU. With legal hearings currently under way, the Alliance are desperate for donations which will go towards paying for lawyers and other resources that are needed to fight to save the bees.


Although the UK has its own major issues regarding decreasing bee populations with their numbers dropping significantly in the last decade, cities and organisations are implementing their own measures to help save the bees. Manchester which has long had an alliance with the humble bee is very proud to be at the forefront of UK bee conservation work. A city which is synonymous with the ‘worker bee’, and even uses the bee as the city’s logo reflecting the hard working nature of Mancunians, is leading the fight towards the conservation of bees through the creation of bee friendly habitats around the city. Manchester’s Flagship wildflower project Tale of 2 Cities have created wildflower areas in urban areas of the city such as Princess Parkway and Hulme Subway.



The Friends of the Earth lead a Bee Cause Campaign which fight to keep the ban on harmful pesticides and educate people about the problems bees face in the UK today.

It’s important that more support for bees whether that be through scientific research, local campaigning or small individual action continues to grow and ultimately change government policy and protect the UK’s wildlife and bee population. The UK needs to encourage more environmentally friendly forms of agricultural production and impose policy that leads to a more environmentally friendly future. There are a number of actions that need to be taken in order to protect the global environment and ensure bee populations’ safety and growth. It’s important that the world shift toward more eco-friendly and biological farming practices, whereby cultivation techniques and breeding programmes do not rely on chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and the natural world is as least affected by our methods and practices as possible.  


Useful links

To donate to the Bee Defenders Alliance visit: https://www.aurelia-stiftung.de/en/beedefender/

To keep up to date with news regarding the EFSA ruling on neonicotinoid pesticides and to find out more about The Bee Cause Campaign and how to get involved visit their designated bee website: www.foe.co.uk/page/bee-cause

To find out more about the work of the Tale of 2 Cities project in Manchester and Liverpool visit their website: www.taleof2cities.org.uk