Bayer loses fight over chemicals EU blamed for killing bees

A picture taken on Feb 23, 2021 shows the logo of German chemicals and pharmaceuticals giant Bayer at the group's plant in Wuppertal, western Germany. (INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

Bayer AG lost its fight to topple a European Union ban on controversial insecticides that regulators blame for killing honeybees.

The EU Court of Justice dismissed the appeal, finding there were no legal errors in the European Commission’s decision to impose restrictions on the substances’ use, based on concerns that the chemicals posed “high acute risks for bees” and “the survival and development of colonies in several crops.”

The EU’s decision five years ago imposed limits on the use of three neonics (neonicotinoids) – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam – saying they were “harmful” to Europe’s honeybee population when used to treat flowering plants with nectar that attracts the insects

Bayer and Syngenta AG in 2018 already lost a first round in court after telling judges that the EU ban on three so-called neonicotinoids forced farmers to revert to potentially more harmful chemicals. Bayer appealed one more time.

The EU’s decision five years earlier imposed limits on the use of three neonics – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam – saying they were “harmful” to Europe’s honeybee population when used to treat flowering plants with nectar that attracts the insects.

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The court ruled on Thursday the commission “is entitled to consider that a risk to the colonies could not be ruled out” even if there is “scientific uncertainty at this stage as to the rate of mortality of individual bees.”

EU governments in 2018 voted in favor of widening the ban of neonicotinoids to apply everywhere, except for greenhouses. The commission has described the chemicals as “systemic,” causing the entire plant to become toxic to bees.

Bayer said in an emailed statement that Thursday’s ruling “seems to allow the commission almost carte blanche to review existing approvals upon the slightest evidence, which need not even be new scientific data.”

The company said it accepts the 2018 decision to broadly restrict the use of certain neonicotinoids in agriculture, but that it “stands by the safety of its products – which have been approved by regulatory bodies around the globe – and reiterates the value that these products have for farmers in managing pests effectively.”

France, the EU’s top sugar exporter, last year partially lifted a ban on neonicotinoids by allowing its use for seed coatings for three years through 2023 after farmers suffered heavy losses from beet yellows virus spread by aphids that neonicotinoids help control.

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The European Food Safety Authority in December said it will assess 21 emergency authorizations by EU nations to use neonicotinoids for sugar beet crop.