European beekeepers take Commission to court over pesticide

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

European beekeepers take Commission to court over pesticide

Related tags: Eu member states, European union

European beekeepers have brought legal action against the Commission for allowing Sulfoxaflor, a pesticide that EFSA deemed potentially harmful to bees and is banned in the US, to be used on crops.

Three associations – Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe), Bee Life European Beekeeping Coordination and the Italian national beekeeping union (UNAAPI) – have requested that the European Court of Justice cancel what they call the unjustified approval of Sulfoxaflor by EU member states and DG Sante.

Produced by US-based chemical company Dow Agroscience and marketed as ‘Isoclast Active’ in the EU, Sulfoxaflor was authorised for use in the EU IN August this year. But the following month a US court ordered it to be removed from the US market, ruing that the authorisation had been granted despite “flawed and limited data​” on its toxicity.

PAN Europe says that Sulfoxaflor is a fourth generation neonicotinoid insecticide that, like other neonicotinoids, is highly toxic to bees as it is absorbed by plants leaving traces present in nectar and pollen. “Its physico-chemical and toxicological specificities make it a neonicotinoid but Dow managed to have it classified as a sulfoximine insecticide, probably for reputation reasons.” 

The US court also ruled that it is a neonicotinoid sub-class.

In 2013 EU Member States voted in favour of continent-wide ban of neonicotinoid pesticides​ ​that had been linked to the decline in bee populations, essential for pollinating food crops. Martin Dermine, PAN Europe’s honey bee project coordinator said: “In 2013, DG Sante made a positive step towards a better protection of bees and the environment in general. This U-turn is not acceptable. We put it in parallel with other negative developments in the pesticide area since the Juncker Commission was established.”

Dermine told FoodNavigator they expected to have a verdict in two years.

In 2014, Europe’s food safety authority EFSA published an opinion​ on Sulfoxaflor, noting big data gaps and concluding: “With the available assessments a high risk to bees was not excluded for field uses. A high long-term risk was indicated for the small herbivorous mammal scenario for field uses in vegetables and in cotton.”

In an open letter addressed to Commissioner Juncker in September, President of Bee Life European Beekeeping Coordination, Francesco Panella, called “illegal and immoral” ​the Commission’s decision to knowingly allow ingredients that had not been the subject of adequate safety assessments to enter the market.

“I am one of the 600,000 beekeepers in Europe that ensure the pollination of food and wild plants. I live from what bees produce as [do] many of my colleagues who maintain the rural dynamism thanks to this profession. Your decisions and delayed reaction in the past have put me and my fellow colleagues in serious economic trouble, while you have the responsibility to ensure our safety and that of our animals and environment,” the letter reads​.

The court proceedings in the US had been brought by beekeepers who sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2013 for failing to properly take into account their concerns before authorising the pesticide. The lawyer representing the beekeepers called the court's decision a complete victory. Dow Agroscience  said it would work to provide the information required  to support Sulfoxaflor's registration.

Sulfoxaflor works by damaging the central nervous system of insects.  

Related topics: Food safety, Sustainability, Policy

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