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A Lesson From France's Return to Neonicotinoids: We Need A Structural Shift Towards Sustainability

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

The French Senate has given its final approval to a law proposal that allows the reintroduction of EU-banned neonicotinoids for sugar beet production via emergency authorisations [1]. Once serving as an example of steady improvement in environmental and biodiversity legislation, this decision is an unfortunate setback for France. It sets a risky precedent not only in the country but to the other Member States, particularly those that continuously file derogations to banned pesticides. It also gives us a valuable lesson that we need to work to switch towards a system based on sustainability.

BeeLife stands in solidarity with French beekeepers and environmentalists in this dire situation. The French Parliament and Senate's decision sends the problematic message that it is possible to overturn scientifically-based bans. They are undermining the evidence that has led to the French and EU-wide ban of some neonicotinoid-based substances, which has ultimately been confirmed by the European Food Safety Authority [2].

At this moment, we recall the risks that entail introducing emergency authorisations. As has been the case in other European countries, these authorisations present the risk of being renewed continuously [3], thus circumventing the EU ban. This new legislation in France is allowing the use of neonicotinoids until 2023, with sugar beet producers asking for a prompt implementation from December this year. Beekeepers and environmentalists must now move to damage control, ensuring that emergency authorisations are not further granted beyond the set period.

Now we must start thinking about the future

The first measure to ensure limiting the damage from this new law is the constant observance of proper procedures to introduce derogations to EU bans. Following Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 [4], Member States communicate to the European Commission complete and detailed notifications on the emergency conditions justifying the derogation. Additionally, it should include a list of potential alternatives to the banned substance, as well as the planned efforts to expand research to avoid future use of derogations. A first step is to remain vigilant that these notifications are correctly drafted, and calling authorities to stimulate the search for adequate and more sustainable alternatives.

Furthermore, we should interpret France's relapse to the use of banned insecticides as a wake-up call. Even the country that was once spearheading legislative progress for environmental protection can bring back old habits. In that case, we need to ensure that future measures for sustainability are even more ambitious.

One of the strategies to establish strong foundations for the protection of pollinators is the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) "Save Bees and Farmers" [5]. The initiative is not only aiming at upholding current and upcoming pesticide bans. It calls for all stakeholders to unite and create a truly sustainable system. The initiative focuses on three demands:

Phase-out synthetic pesticides by 2035​:

Phase-out synthetic pesticides in EU agriculture by 80% by 2030, starting with the most hazardous, to become 100% pesticide-free by 2035. ​

Restore biodiversity:

Restore natural ecosystems in agricultural areas so that farming becomes a vector of biodiversity recovery.

Support farmers in the transition:

Reform agriculture by prioritising small scale, diverse and sustainable farming, supporting a rapid increase in agroecological and organic practice, and enabling independent farmer-based training and research into pesticide- and GMO-free farming.

In the same week that the French Senate confirmed the reintroduction of neonicotinoids in its fields, French citizens achieved a milestone in their support to the ECI. France became the 5th country to reach the minimum number of signatures for the initiative. The efforts now continue, aiming to gather 1 million signatures to transform its demands for sustainable agriculture into a reality.

The situation in France is proof of the need to create structural changes that not only impede going back to risky practices but also to transform our current system. There is an opportunity to move towards a status quo of sustainability, ensuring the respect and protection of bees and other pollinators as well as their role for healthy ecosystems. This project will necessarily be collaborative and can begin now by showing our support to the ECI "Save Bees and Farmers".


[1] Sénat Français. 2020. Projet de loi relatif aux conditions de mise sur le marché de certains produits phytopharmaceutiques en cas de danger sanitaire pour les betteraves sucrières.

[2] EFSA. 2013. Guidance on the risk assessment of plant protection products on bees (Apis mellifera, Bombus spp. and solitary bees).

[3] PAN Europe, BeeLife, ClientEarth, Romapis. 2017. Bee Emergency Call: How some Member States are threatening bees by allowing the use of pesticides and how the Commission does nothing to stop them:

[4] European Parliament, European Council. Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 October 2009 concerning the placing of plant protection products on the market and repealing Council Directives 79/117/EEC and 91/414/EEC.

[5] European Citizens’ Initiative Save Bees and Farmers.


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