Neonicotinoids are bad news for bees and we've known it for a while. But the situation regarding bee populations and the world's most widely used pesticide has now become so dire that the EU has placed a complete ban on their outdoor use, and it's expected to take effect by the end of the year.
Much of what we humans eat can be traced back to the role bees play as pollinators, whether that be by pollinating the vegetables and fruits that we eat, or those consumed by the animals we eat.
So, dramatically declining bee populations is a concern for all, which is why we're seeing increasing efforts to apply the brakes. In 2016, we saw the US Fish and Wildlife Service place bees on the endangered list for the first time, a move that will help protect their habitats from land development, invasive plant species and the effects of climate change.
But habitat loss isn't the only thing threatening the livelihood of bees around the world. Pesticides play an important role in protecting crops from critters, but they are by nature indiscriminate and can cause harm to important pollinating insects.
One particularly potent example is a family of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which interfere with key energy-producing molecules and leave the bees immobile and, ultimately, starving. We've recently seen researchers make advances in the lab towards advanced, selective neonicotinoid pesticides that take out other bugs while leaving bees unharmed, but the EU is looking to take a broad-spectrum approach and believes it's now time to act.
It first banned the use of neonicotinoids in 2013, but only on certain flowering crops that bees found particularly attractive, like maize, oilseed rape and sunflower. The European Food Safety Authority has now conducted a review of those restrictions and deemed that they don't go far enough.
EU member states have now voted in favor of a complete ban on outdoor use of three neonicotinoid insecticides: imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, meaning that they can still be used in permanent, closed greenhouses. The European Commission will adopt the regulations in the coming weeks and they are expected to take effect by year's end.
Source: European Commission
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