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The Neonicotinoid Story in Repeat

The evidence that neonicotinoids pose a high risk to bees has already had a significant influence in Europe. Earlier this year, it has even pushed the EU Member States to vote for the extension of the 2013 ban on neonicotinoids, expanding it to all open air uses. However, the story is not developing equally among all European countries. While France is leading the charge against the risks of neonicotinoids, Romania, on the other hand, seems to be falling into the same mistakes of the past. Such a significant gap in the protection of bees and their environment is worrying. Today that the SCOPAFF (Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed) is meeting to discuss phytopharmaceuticals, BeeLife and Romapis point the attention to the problem, in the hope that decisionmakers address it.

Neonicotinoid insecticides were introduced to the market during the 90s and quickly became widely popular in places with industrialised agriculture. Their negative impact on bees was also swiftly noticed. At the time, bee mortality rates rocketed, beginning the bee crisis which continues up to date and to which several countries continue to turn a blind eye. Currently, members of the EU vary widely in their stand against the risks of these products.

France has been the first country in the world not only to antecede the EU-wide ban on neonicotinoids but even to go further. In 2016, l'Assamblé Nationale approved the ban of five neonicotinoid substances, which has come into effect this September 2018. While the EU ban comprehends three neonicotinoid substances (Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam), France has also included Acetamiprid and Thiacloprid. Currently, l'Assamblé is even debating on the extension of the ban for new generations of neonicotinoids. Such developments came only after a long-lasting battle fought by French beekeepers.

However, the case of France differs from other countries of the EU. While French beekeepers celebrate, their Romanian colleagues mainly experience frustration. Romania has not only avoided any further steps towards the protection of bees from neonicotinoid insecticides, but it has entirely circumvented the application of the EU-wide ban. It is striking how two countries under the same European regulatory framework differ so widely.

Romanian beekeepers are currently observing the same loss rates their French counterparts did two decades ago. The sector is no doubt facing a significant peril exposed in the lack of will of legislators and government officials. The Romanian government even aggravates the problem by granting emergency authorisations year after year. In 2018, Romania has granted emergency authorisations for the fifth consecutive year.

Romanian authorities presented up to 20 notifications of emergency authorisations between 2014 and 2016. However, they did not follow the procedures established under Article 53(2) of Regulation (EC) No. 1107/2009. They filed several notifications with no research on alternatives, nor with programmes to support it. The Food and Veterinary Office even reported numerous breaches of the derogations' rules at the time, such as the incompletion of notifications.

In 2017, the Romanian Agriculture Ministry started financing a research programme, initially unknown to the public. Nevertheless, it differs from the intended purpose of such incentives in Article 53. Instead of researching for alternatives to the already restricted substances, the Ministry launched a programme to provide support for the notifications of future emergency authorisations. In other words, the purpose of the Romanian research programme is to confirm the efficacy and to prove that neonicotinoids are harmless to bees. According to the working document on emergency authorisations issued by SANCO (10087/2013), research "should be focussing on non-chemical, chemical, combined or other solutions". While the Ministry is required to provide research on alternatives, it contradicts EU authorities, as it insists on providing evidence on already confirmed data about the extreme effectiveness of neonicotinoids and their high risk on bees.

Francesco Panella, president of BeeLife, remarked: "Do we also want to destroy the European Union through phytosanitary control?"

It is scandalous that EU member states have been guilty of both legitimate or illegal events concerning European normative co-decisions for the protection of bees and pollinators. New regulations in Europe have been put in place to improve the protection of our bees, which is a start, but then you observe cases as the Romanian one. Of course, we can understand that not everyone can immediately follow the example of France in banning systemic insecticides. However, it is inexcusable that member states continue to systematically kill their bees, pollinators and environment, with the grant of emergency authorisations”.

The efforts that French beekeepers underwent to reach their current state is remarkable. Nevertheless, they required a set of allies and a willingness by their government. In Romania, beekeepers are facing increasing challenges, and they seem to be left behind, forgotten to fend for themselves. Their claims are not at all radical; they are merely calling to follow the necessary steps to protect their bees and their environment from dangerous products. Will the story repeat itself and 20 years have to go by to learn the lesson? Alternatively, will other countries learn from past mistakes and avoid the massive damages occurred before changing the situation?

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