Here, I relate what the journalist said in his article “Disparition des abeilles : comment l’Europe a renoncé à enrayer leur déclin”. All quotes, originally in French, were translated by me.
The “Updated Principles for Evaluating the Effects of Pesticides on Bees” was issued on July 17th. This text would ignore the gist of the EFSA recommendations. Most of the measures are deferred for further consideration.
The decision comes after a study published in 2017 in PloS One (Hallman et al. 2017) observing that “the biomass of flying insects fell by more than 75% between 1989 and 2016 in around 60 protected areas in Germany.” The authors of the latter suspect that this decline is representative of the “low-lying landscapes of Western Europe dominated by human activities”, which would be supported by “the” clean windshield syndrome “observed by motorists older than 40 years old.” This steep decline coincides with the introduction of NNIs and fipronil. The alerts of beekeepers following the use of these products date back to 1994 according to Mr Dermine of the NGO PAN-Europe.
As early as 2001, work from INRA showed that doses of imidacloprid “several thousand times lower than the acute toxicity dose, administered each day, could kill a honey bee in eight days. The study of acute toxicity alone would have greatly underestimated the impact of this pesticide. Already in 2003, the CST “had shown that the regulatory tests in force” were “unsuitable for assessing the risks of new generations of phytosanitary products on bees.” This report resulted in the ban on certain uses of imidacloprid.
It took almost 10 years for the EU to take an interest in this issue. The report issued by EFSA in 2012 concludes that the risk assessment methods are very insufficient (Boesten et al. 2012). In 2013, it published a “guidance document” describing “a set of potential deleterious effects that should be tested before a molecule is allowed to enter the market.” In particular, he recommends taking into account the different routes of exposure, as well as the sublethal effects. This document was put on the agenda of a European technical committee, SCOPAFF, but no agreement has been found between member states to adopt it.
On July 17, none of the proposed advances would have been adopted, renewing “a risk assessment based on acute toxicity.” The Commission would then have asked EFSA to further review its proposals. For Mr Dermine, this request would not be “scientific expertise, but rather an exercise in political acrobatics aimed at reducing ambitions in order to satisfy reluctant member states”.
The Pollinis association, participating in a committee set up on the subject by EFSA, would denounce “the intense lobbying of agrochemical manufacturers.” They sent at least a dozen letters to EU executive officials vigorously protesting against the guidance document. Their stakes are indeed considerable: the vast majority of uses of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides would not pass the tests offered by EFSA. According to ECPA, the proposed tests would not be feasible, as some recommended tests do not even have internationally recognized methodologies.
[Foucart takes up a graph showing the increase in the acute toxic load of insecticides in American agriculture, almost exclusively linked to NNI, taken from a 2019 Plos One study, and that on the reduction in the mass of insects by 75% observed by the 2017 PLOS ONE study by Hallman et al. 2017]
A report published in 2015 by EASAC also observed that “very low levels of neonicotinoids have long-lasting sublethal effects on beneficial organisms.” Report coordinator Michael Norton further points out that wild pollinators are more sensitive than honey bees, so their decline would result in even greater damage to other pollinators. We should therefore study the risks of pesticides on “other wild insects that have a beneficial role in human activities. “
[NdA: S. Foucart ends with a presentation of his book “And the world became silent”]