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European Union: Temporary Ban on Pesticides Harmful to Bees Challenged

(Sept. 9, 2013) In August 2013, Syngenta, a Swiss agrochemical company, and Bayer, a German agrochemical company, initiated legal action before the European Court of Justice, challenging the European Commission’s decision to ban the pesticide thiamethoxam, which is used to coat seeds before germination. The two companies are major producers of thiamethoxam. (Press Release, Greenpeace, Syngenta Takes Commission to Court over Ban of Bee-Killing Pesticide (Aug. 27, 2013).)

In April 2013, the majority of the EU Member States endorsed a Commission decision to impose a two-year ban on three pesticides that are considered harmful to bees. The three neonicotinoid pesticides – imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam – in addition to being used to coat seeds before germination, are added to soil or sprayed on plants. The Commission reached this decision based on the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) opinion that the chemicals posed “high acute risks” to honeybees. (Press Release, EFSA, EFSA Identifies Risks to Bees from Neonicotinoids(Jan. 16, 2013).)

Syngenta argued that EFSA’s conclusion was “inaccurate and incomplete” and that the Commission imposed the ban without the agreement of the majority of the EU countries. Syngenta CEO John Atkin, in justifying the company’s recent legal action, argued that it had no other choice, because the Commission “wrongly linked” thiamethoxam to the decline in bee colonies. (Syngenta Takes EU to Court over Pesticide Ban, EURACTIV (Aug. 28, 2013).)

On the other hand, a spokesman for Greenpeace, Mark Breddy, argued that Syngenta downplayed the scientific evidence that “clearly links thiamethoxam and other pesticides to bee-mortality. Instead of taking the Commission to court, it should act responsibly and stop marketing its bee-killing pesticides. (Id.)