Bees before pesticides, campaigners say

By Emily Macintosh, EEB

More than three quarters of the world’s food crops depend on pollination and the value of insect pollination has an estimated value of 153 billion euros globally and up to 15 billions euros in the EU alone. Yet numbers of wild pollinators such as bees, bumblebees, butterflies and other insects are plummeting, in part as a result of intensive  agriculture, habitat change and widespread pesticide use.

Today a special bee conference is taking place in the European Parliament – just weeks after a new Commission plan to reverse this trend was dubbed as insufficient by environmentalists.

Sergiy Moroz, Senior Policy Officer for Water and Biodiversity, said: “Given the scale of pollinator decline, only new binding laws and fundamental reform of the Common Agricultural Policy to end nature-harming farm practices and over dependence on pesticides will protect our pollinators, often called ‘the little things that run the world’.”

The IUCN European Red List of Threatened Species showed that 9% of wild bees and butterflies, and as many as 24% of Europe’s bumblebee species are now threatened with extinction.

In April, EU countries voted for a total ban on neonicotinoids – the world’s most widely-used insecticides following a damning report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that concluded neonicitinoids pose a high risk to both honeybees and wild bees. Last year, the controversial herbicide glyphosate was recently relicensed for five years by EU countries – despite a raft of studies sounding the alarm over its impact on health and the environment.

Beyond the EU, some of the world’s most vulnerable communities are fighting against pesticide products, including some that have already been banned in the EU. Communities in Asia, Latin America and Africa have been affected by the use of ‘nematicide’ to kill worms which destroy banana plantations. Nematicide was banned in the EU in 2009 as it poses a danger to health and the environment.

And the EU’s high consumption levels of animal produce also has a direct impact on human health, the environment, and pollinators in countries like Argentina where environmental activists have challenged the use of glyphosate on monocultures of GM soybean used to grow animal feed destined for foreign markets. An estimated 35 million hectares of land globally is required to supply the EU with the feed it needs to sustain current livestock production levels every year.

This comes as a new campaign from ‘Make Europe Sustainable For All’ – a group of 25 NGOs from across Europe – is warning that inaction on the inequalities arising as a result of global pesticide dependence will mean countries in Europe and beyond won’t achieve the global goals agreed between world leaders in 2015 that aim to end poverty and protect the planet – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The campaign calls for a move away from pesticides and towards more sustainable farming methods such as agroecology in order to help meet several of these goals, in particular: SDG 1 on tackling poverty; SDG 2 on zero hunger; SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production; SDG 13 on climate action; SDG 14 on safeguarding seas and oceans, and SDG 15 on environmental protection.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is the largest network of environmental citizens’ organisations in Europe. It currently consists of around 140 member organisations in more than 30 countries (all EU Member States plus some accession and neighbouring countries), including a growing number of European networks, and representing some 30 million individual members and supporters.

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