Bees Still at Risk as EU Member States Deem Significant Losses Acceptable

On June 28, EU member states presented their positions on establishing harmonised Specific Protection Goals (SPG) to assess the risks of pesticides on bees. In the AGRIFISH meeting of the Council of the European Union, ministers agreed, for the most part, on the European Commission's proposal to have a harmonised SPG with 10% effect of pesticides on colony size [1]. Member states consider as acceptable the loss of 10% in colony size after an exposure to pesticides. Although ministers focused on 10% as a value to achieve a political compromise, it is higher than scientific evidence suggests.

After eight years of political blockage to adopt the 2013 Bee Guidance Document presented by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) [2], this new compromise is a positive but mediocre achievement. Deeming 10% of losses in the honeybee colony size from pesticides is unacceptable. First, it contradicts scientifically sound risk assessment. In 2013, EFSA proposed a 7% acceptable value based on scientific evidence for pesticide risk assessment. Other studies in the field demonstrated the feasibility of detecting up to 5% impact of pesticides in colony strength [3].

Furthermore, Member States obviate the information brough from scientists, showing a constant decline in pollinators [4]. Such an unambitious compromise contradicts Europe's commitment to improving sustainability (EU Green Deal, EU Biodiversity Strategy, Farm2Fork Strategy) and halting and reverting the decline of pollinators (EU Pollinators Initiative).

Besides maintaining dangerous conditions for bees and other pollinators who are also affected by acute and chronic intoxications from pesticides, this political compromise fails to protect the rights of beekeepers. Why are products allowed into nature, knowing that they lead to direct losses in the livelihood of beekeepers? A robust and fair risk assessment should consider bee losses as an equally critical loss as the loss of cattle, for instance.

BeeLife and its members call for all member states to reconsider their position. Although the ideal acceptance level of the effects of pesticides on bees should be 0%, the EU should at least listen to its scientific bodies, which propose a maximum threshold of 7% for acceptable losses.

*This is the position EU countries presented during the AGRIFISH meeting on June 28:

Netherlands: harmonised 7%

France: harmonised 7% - 10% ok for consensus

Italy: harmonised 7%

Estonia: harmonised European SPG 12%

Lithuania: harmonised European SPG 10%

Cyprus: harmonised European SPG 10%

Slovakia: harmonised European SPG 7% - 10% ok for field trips

Poland: harmonised European SPG 12,8% - 10% ok for compromise

Ireland: harmonised European SPG 10%

Spain: harmonised European SPG 10%

Luxembourg: harmonised European SPG 10%

Belgium: harmonised European SPG 10%

Germany: harmonised European SPG 10%

Latvia: non-harmonised

Croatia: harmonised European SPG 10%

Hungary: harmonised European SPG 7% - 10% ok for compromise

Finland: harmonised European SPG 12,8%

Austria: harmonised European SPG 10%

Bulgaria: harmonised European SPG 12%

Czech Republic: harmonised European SPG 12% - 10% ok for compromise

Greece: harmonised European SPG 23%

Sweden: harmonised European SPG 7%

Romania: harmonised European SPG 10%

Denmark: harmonised European SPG (unclear percentage)

[1] Council of the European Union. 2021. Farming ministers reaffirm need for a new approach to protecting honey bees.

[2] EFSA. 2013. “Guidance on the Risk Assessment of Plant Protection Products on Bees (Apis Mellifera, Bombus Spp. and Solitary Bees)”. EFSA Journal, 11(7): 3295. 266 p.

[3] Osterman J et al. 2019. “Clothianidin seed-treatment has no detectable negative impact on honeybee colonies and their pathogens”. Nature Communications, 10(1): 692.

[4] Hallmann et al., “More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas”. PLoS ONE12 (10): e0185809 PLOS One 12, e0185809 (2017); Nieto et al., “European red list of bees” (Publication Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2014); Zattara, M. A. Aizen, “Worldwide occurrence records suggest a global decline in bee species richness”. One Earth 4, 114 (2021).