Swiss agrichemical firm Syngenta has said it will take the European Commission to court over its decision to suspend the use of a pesticide on crops pollinated by bees.
European member states voted in April to ban the use of three widely used neonicotinoid insecticides for two years, after a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report said in January that they may pose a "high acute risk" to pollinators, including honeybees. However, EFSA added that in some cases it was "unable to finalise the assessments due to shortcomings in the available data".
Syngenta’s thiamethoxam insecticide is among the banned substances.
“We would prefer not to take legal action but have no other choice given our firm belief that the Commission wrongly linked thiamethoxam to the decline in bee health. In suspending the product, it breached EU pesticide legislation and incorrectly applied the precautionary principle,” Syngenta chief operating officer John Atkin said in a statement released Tuesday.
The company claims that the Commission’s decision was based on “a flawed process” and “an inaccurate and incomplete assessment” by EFSA, without the full support of member states.
Indeed, the Commission imposed the ban only after a hung vote in the European parliament. Fifteen countries voted in favour of a ban, but this was not enough to form a qualified majority under EU rules.
Some restrictions are already in place for neonicotinoids in France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia. However a previous motion for a two-year moratorium did not attract enough support in March, under the EU's weighted voting system, after the UK and Germany both abstained.
Reacting to Syngenta’s move, Greenpeace spokesperson Mark Breddy said: “The Commission was right to intervene and Greenpeace will continue to campaign actively for the protection of bees. The environmental risks and the threat to agricultural production posed by these pesticides far outweigh any benefits.”
Apart from the three neonicotinoids subject to the temporary ban, Greenpeace said it is also campaigning to remove four other pesticides from the market, “as a crucial first step to move away from intensive farming in Europe.”
Syngenta’s Atkin added: “Modern products like thiamethoxam are essential to address the challenge of increasing European food production and reducing the reliance on imports.”