Over the past few months officials in the European Union have been haggling over issues surrounding the use of the neonicotonoid class of crop protection products. This week Bayer CropScience and Syngenta have unveiled an action plant to unlock the EU stalemate on bee health. This move follows the failure of the European Commission to reach agreement with Member States on an appropriate response to the European Food Safety Authority's report on the potential risk to bee health of this class of products.
Recently, after calling for a ban on the use of the product class, EU member states split their vote and did not pass any measure regarding use of the product.
In a press statement issued early Thursday, Dr. Rüdiger Scheitza, Member of the Board of Management of Bayer CropScience and Head of Strategy & Business Management, remarks: "Even though all the evidence points to various parasites and diseases being the true cause of poor bee health, we are keen to do everything in our power to give consumers confidence in our products. The significant lack of agreement between the European Commission and the Member States needs a bold plan so that farmers in Europe can continue to produce the high-quality, affordable food, in a way that promotes the health of bees and other pollinators. We believe that such a plan as this can be delivered."
Adds John Atkin, Syngenta’s Chief Operating Officer: "This comprehensive plan will bring valuable insights into the area of bee health, whereas a ban on neonicotinoids would simply close the door to understanding the problem. Banning these products would not save a single hive and it is time that everyone focused on addressing the real causes of declining bee populations. The plan is based on our confidence in the safety of our products and on our historical commitment to improving the environment for bees."
Here are the key features of the plan as laid out by Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, along with a few more details:
1. Significantly scale up the creation of pollen rich, flowering field margins across the EU, to provide essential habitat and nutrition for bees. This would include build on Syngenta's 10-year "Operation Pollinator" program, which the company says has demonstrated that these margins dramatically increase pollinator populations, including honey bees. And it would address one of the main factors identified by the EC in the decline of bee health.
2. Support for the establishment of a comprehensive field monitoring program for bee health, including the detection of neonicotinoid crop protection products - particularly in maize, oilseed rape, sunflower and cotton. The companies say a comprehensive program, following the guidelines for surveillance projects by the EU Reference Laboratory for honey bee health, will be established. And the current monitoring work of the EU reference laboratories on bee health, supported by national bee institutes, should be reinforced and extended.
3. Mandatory implementation of strict measures to mitigate the exposure risk to bees; these are currently already recommended by the manufacturers and effectively applied by most farmers as good agricultural practice. These practices would include high-quality treatment of seed taking place only in certified production sites that participate in a quality assurance program. Strict rules governing use of treated seed, such as mandatory use of deflectors in planting equipment, application only by professional and certified users, and improved information exchange between farmers and beekeepers.
4. Investment in, and implementation of, at the earliest opportunity, new technologies which further reduce dust emissions from the planting of seed treated with neonicotinoid crop protection products. Bayer CropScience and Syngenta are both working on new solutions to further improve the coating of seeds, treated with crop protection products, and the way they are planted to reduce dust emissions. Some have already been deployed and both companies restated their commitment to invest in research and development of these risk mitigation measures.
5. Further investment in the research and development of new solutions for the main factors impacting bee health, which include parasites and viruses, and establishment of area-wide, long-term pilot studies which demonstrate their effectiveness. The companies note that the EC identifies disease and viruses such as Varroa destructor, American foulbrood, European foulbrood, Nosema spp., and honey bee viruses as the main causes of the decline of bee health. Bayer CropScience and Syngenta have both invested in research and development of new solutions to these parasites, diseases and viruses and commit to stepping up activities in that area. The companies are also committing to the support of area-wide, long-term pilot studies which demonstrate their effectiveness.
Source: Press releases from Bayer CropScience and Syngenta