Bugs Invade EU as Concerns About Bees Spur Pesticide Ban

January 8, 2015 06:28 AM
Bugs Invade EU as Concerns About Bees Spur Pesticide Ban

The European Union has a bug problem.


After regulators in late 2013 banned pesticides called neonicotinoids, linked in some studies to the unintended deaths of bees, farmers across the continent applied older chemicals to which many pests had developed a resistance, allowing them to survive. Now, infestations may lead to a 15 percent drop in this year’s European harvest of rapeseed, the region’s primary source of vegetable oil used to make food ingredients and biodiesel, according to researcher Oil World.

“When we remove a tool from the box, that puts even more pressure on the tools we’ve got left,” said farmer Martin Jenkins, who has seen flea beetles for the first time in almost a decade on his 750 acres of rapeseed outside Cambridge, England. “More pesticides are being used, and even more ridiculous is there will be massively less rapeseed.”

At issue for the EU was protecting bees that farmers rely upon to pollinate more than 80 percent of Europe’s crops and wild plants, valued at 22 billion euros ($26 billion) annually. While research on how neonicotinoids affect beneficial insects hasn’t been conclusive, regulators said the risks were worth imposing a two-year ban that began in December 2013. The Canadian province of Ontario proposed similar restrictions last year, and new rules are under review in the U.S., the biggest oilseed producer.

Corn, Sunflowers


The ban left European farmers without effective alternatives, leading to widespread insect damage, Hamburg-based Oil World said in a December report. Output of rapeseed may fall to a three-year low of 20.5 million metric tons in 2015, down from a record 24 million last year, it said. The EU is the world’s largest producer of rapeseed, which is known in North America mostly as canola.


French corn and Spanish sunflowers may also be affected, said Copa-Cogeca, the Brussels-based lobbyist for the continent’s growers.

The EU restricted the main types of neonicotinoids, a class of chemicals similar to nicotine, while still permitting two less-toxic varieties. Bayer AG, which markets the products as Poncho and Votivo, and Syngenta AG make the pesticide. Monsanto Co., DuPont Co. and Dow Chemical Co. sell seeds coated in it.

Older Chemistry


“Farmers have had to go back to older chemistry and chemistry that is increasingly less effective,” said Nick von Westenholz, the chief executive officer of the U.K.’s Crop Protection Association, an industry lobbyist. “Companies would like to innovate and bring newer stuff, but the neonicotinoid example is not a tempting one.”


While the EU’s approval process for new pesticides can take years, some research is under way. The U.K. last month granted over 650,000 pounds ($979,485) in funding to a project led by Arch UK Biocides Ltd. for a chemical based on spider venom that is harmless to bees.

Some studies, including one in May from the Harvard School of Public Health, have linked neonicotinoids to Colony Collapse Disorder, a syndrome marked by bees abandoning their hives in winter and dying. Bayer scientists dubbed the research “seriously flawed,” noting that colony failures observed in the study were prompted in part because bees were fed artificially high levels of pesticides.

Other research was less conclusive. Some versions of the insecticide were harmful in lab experiments and had little effect on healthy colonies in the field, according to a report by Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

Question Mark


“The risk to bee populations and the wider environment from using this chemical that has a very big question mark over it is not a risk worth taking,” said Helen Browning, the chief executive officer of the Soil Association, a U.K. charity focused on sustainable farming. “There are alternative approaches,” such as barrier crops around fields, she said


The number of approved crop chemicals has fallen in the EU by more than 75 percent in two decades, according to the Andersons Centre, a farm consultancy in Leicestershire, England.

In Germany, most rapeseed farmers have sprayed crops at least twice with alternative chemicals known as pyrethroids this season, said Manuela Specht, a division head at oilseed trade group known as UFOP in Berlin. In past years, they only sprayed once or not at all, she said. Prolonged exposure to some pyrethroids can stunt bee growth, a University of London study showed last year.

For Jenkins, the U.K. farmer, he’s balancing a fight against pests that grow stronger over time with trying to maintain food production. In addition to flea beetles in rapeseed, he’s got an infestation of black grass, a weed that chokes his wheat fields. Two of the chemicals that he used to use are now banned, and the plant is resistant to permitted treatments of Bayer’s Atlantis, he said.

“We’re growing less tons of food on our farm than we were 10 years ago,” Jenkins said. “An attack 10 years ago we could remedy with an alternative bit of chemistry, but that is no longer the case.”


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Spell Check

Chuck Byfield
Decatur, IL
1/8/2015 04:18 PM

  Follow the money. This is all about Bayer eliminating the cheap competition.

Brent Rains
Collinsville, IL
1/8/2015 08:43 AM

  These are the serious problems you get when people who haven't a clue or have never produced anything, manage policy with emotion and ignorance of applied experience.

Greg Gelder
Havre de Grace, MD
1/8/2015 12:27 PM

  I am now tending to lean towards Ken's opinion. I have two fields of Alfalfa, one non GMO and one round-up ready. The round-up ready was infested with leaf hoppers and had to be sprayed. The other only had a small amount of leaf hoppers, but went ahead and sprayed it also. I read documentation that bugs are natures garbage collectors that will eat any plant that is not healthy. So I watched three cherry trees planted in a row, the first two were fine but the third for the past two years the same beetles eat the leaves. Another time I paid attention is when one of the bulls I had banded got sick from the band. The flies that were on him were a lot different than the flies that were on the other two bulls. I don't know the name of the flies but they were different and none the same. When he got over his sickness, the flies changed back to the normal ones that were on the other two. So I stopped using synthetic fertilizer on both alfalfa fields and started a different program of bring the soil mineralization back into balance by adding back the minerals that were depleted. The cost so far has been a lot less and the yield last year was better than the years before. I want to see how this years yield and next for comparison. If all works well, my input costs have dropped and the yield has increased and have not used any chemicals, but a lot more to learn.