Breaking news - today, April 29 2013.
|Side of temporary toilet, outside Vatican. Photo Clement Kent, CC 2.1|
The European Commission, by a vote of 15 in favor, 8 opposed, and 4 abstaining, has voted to approve a temporary ban on 3 neonicotinoid
pesticides strongly suspected of harming pollinators, especially bees.
As reported in numerous sources (Guardian
) the vote fell short of the required level to mandate
a ban, leaving it to the Commission to decide whether to order a temporary one. Reports suggest the Commission will order a 2 year ban on the use of imidacloprid
, and thiamethoxam
for some uses, probably including seed treatment. During this period further studies will need to be conducted and reviewed, after which the decision will be revisited.
The "Precautionary Principle
" is a relatively new generalization to the environment and public affairs of a very old idea, going back to the Hippocratic Oath
's "never do harm
" commitment. In medicine, this is often invoked as a reason to be very, very cautious in prescribing new, untried treatments, because the human body is so complex that only extensive tests and experience will make us reasonably certain that a treatment will not accidentally do more harm than good.
As extended to the environment, which is many times more complex than the human body and much less studied, the Precautionary Principle says that the burden of proof for those proposing to use or using the environment in new ways (e.g. new pesticides, new levels of pollution or new pollutants) should lie on the new users. That is, the default position of governments and regulatory agents should be "possibly guilty until proven innocent", just as a physician rightly insists of a new drug or surgical technique.
|Bees, Palazzo Barberini, Rome. Photo Clement Kent CC 2.1|
The World Charter for Nature (UN, 1982), the Montreal Protocol
(1987-89), the Rio Declaration
's Principle 15 (UN, 1992), and the Treaty of Lisbon
(EU, 2007-09) have given the Precautionary Principle legal standing in many countries, particularly in Europe. And, a large number of recent publications, some of them discussed in this blog last year
, and others in the last 6 months in the most prestigious scientific journals (1
), have greatly increased the evidence that this class of pesticide, as used now in agriculture, does do harm to bees of several types.
One of the earliest countries to take action on neonicotinoids was Italy, whose role I honor here with pictures of bees from the "Eternal City", Rome. France has also taken very positive steps, under pressure from the French public and beekeepers.
The European vote needs to be followed by still more research, as - surprise!
- Syngenta, Bayer, and Monsanto are vigorously opposing attempts to declare neonics harmful to bees. No regulatory change has happened in Canada, where the government PMRA department involved has set itself a 2018 deadline to review evidence, but has been told by the Conservative government to cut their budget by 12%, fire scientists, and "streamline" pesticide registration
. In the USA, beekeepers groups are suing the EPA
to force action on neonics. In the midst of all this political turmoil, it will be very important to have clear, objective research done by farmers, beekeepers, and scientists without business ties to pesticide manufacturers nor to fringe advocacy groups.
Clement Kent, April 29 2013.