The European Union will widen a ban on pesticides linked to harming bees, a move that could threaten output of some crops and put pressure on insecticide makers such as Bayer AG and Syngenta AG.
EU governments voted Friday in Brussels to prohibit the use of neonicotinoids everywhere except greenhouses. Sixteen nations approved the restriction proposed by the European Commission, leading to a positive result under “weighted-majority” rules. The measure will be adopted by the commission, the EU’s regulatory arm, in the coming weeks and take effect by year-end.
Neonicotinoids, which are used as seed coatings and protect plants from pests, were banned by EU regulators in 2013 for use on rapeseed, sunflowers and corn after some studies linked them to unintended deaths of bees. Today’s vote follows a review by the European Food Safety Authority in February, which concluded the chemicals pose risks to bee health. The wider ban will apply to three neonicotinoids: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam.
"Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production and the environment," Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU’s health and food safety commissioner, said in a statement.
Some industry groups have argued that a ban could curb production of crops such as wheat and sugar beet. Stopping the use of neonicotinoids may lead to a drop in EU sugar-beet yields, with estimates ranging between 10 percent and 49 percent, according to the International Confederation of European Beet Growers, known as CIBE. Today’s vote is a “severe blow” for sugar-beet growers, the Brussels-based organization said Friday.
"European agriculture will suffer as a result of this decision," said Graeme Taylor, a spokesman for the European Crop Protection Association, which represents pesticide producers. "In time decision makers will see the clear impact of removing a vital tool for farmers and European food production."
Some farmers are already cutting back on rapeseed plantings due to lower yields and higher crop protection costs, according to Miroslaw Marciniak, a grains market analyst in Warsaw. The same may eventually happen to grains, he said.
"Every restriction on active substances limits the range of available crop-protection tools," he said. "Production costs increase and if there are no alternatives, it can impact yields."
The wider ban could impact neonicotinoids sales by Bayer and Syngenta, which clashed with the EU in court last year over the bans on the products. The court’s decision is due next month.
Evidence shows that the products pose a minimum threat to bee health compared with a lack of food, diseases and cold weather, Basel, Switzerland-based Syngenta said in a statement. Bayer, based in Leverkusen, Germany, said the restrictions aren’t warranted and are a “bad deal for the European agricultural sector and the environment.”
The ban “would really help to slow insect deaths, maybe stop them altogether,” German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said on broadcaster ZDF on Friday, before the EU announcement. “We have to change our approach to pesticides. It’s really dramatic what is currently happening and we will act.”