NGOs and beekeepers take legal action to defend EU ban of bee-killing pesticides against Syngenta and Bayer

Field study increases concerns over bee pesticide exposure

Press release - December 16, 2013
Brussels – Greenpeace International, Bee Life European Beekeeping Coordination and 4 other environmental and consumer organisations (Pesticides Action Network Europe, ClientEarth, Buglife and SumOfUs) are applying to intervene at the European Court of Justice to defend an EU-wide partial ban of three pesticides, in response to legal action by chemical companies Syngenta and Bayer who are seeking to overturn the ban (1).

The ban (2), which came into force on 1 December 2013, relates to three pesticides produced by Syngenta (thiamethoxam) and Bayer (imidacloprid and clothianidin) which belong to a class of chemicals known as neonicotinoids. The European Commission adopted the ban on the basis of scientific assessments by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concerning the negative impacts of these insecticides on honeybees (3). The ban received strong political support from EU governments (4).

Greenpeace International has also today released the results of a scientific field pilot study (5) providing further evidence of contamination pathways. The study shows that liquid exuded by plants whose seeds have been treated with certain neonicotinoids contains very high concentrations of the pesticides, resulting in potentially deadly exposure for bees which drink the liquid.

Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said: ”Bayer and Syngenta have unleashed their lawyers to attack a ban which is scientifically rigorous, legally sound and helps protect the general interests of European farmers and consumers The partial ban of these three pesticides is only a first but necessary step to protect bees in Europe. It must be defended from the attacks of companies pursuing their private interests to the detriment of our environment.”

The Greenpeace International field study tested guttation fluid (6) produced by commercial maize crops treated with the neonicotinoid pesticides thiamethoxam (produced by Syngenta) and clothianidin (produced by Bayer), both covered by the ban, in order to fill some of the existing scientific data gaps on neonicotinoids. The study revealed that the concentrations of neonicotinoid pesticides exuded by the plant in the guttation fluid could equal or exceed the concentrations of active ingredients recommended by the companies for use in commercial formulations of sprayed insecticide. These results suggest that guttation fluid could pose a serious toxic hazard to bees. Such contamination pathways are still poorly investigated.

Matthias Wüthrich, European bees project leader at Greenpeace Switzerland, said: ”there are still major scientific gaps in research on how bees are exposed to neonicotinoids. Now we know that deadly exposure may occur when bees and other pollinators forage on guttation fluid from treated crops. This new way for bees to be exposed adds to the already known unacceptable risks linked to neonicotinoid pesticides. That means that the current precautionary EU ban is not only justified, but must be strengthened and broadened.”


Press contact: Cédric Gervet, +33 613 070 429

Marco Contiero - Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director: +32 (0) 477 777 034,

(1) Case number T-451/13, 14 August 2013, and case number T-429/13, 19 August 2013.

(2) Decision by the European Commission to restrict the use of imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin (Regulation EU No 485/2013).

(3) Scientific assessments by EFSA on imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin: imidacloprid:; thiamethoxam:; clothianidin: 

(4) Fifteen Member States supported the restriction, eight voted against and four abstained:

(5) ‘Dripping poison: an analysis of neonicotinoid insecticides in the guttation fluid of growing maize plants’, Greenpeace Research Laboratories, December 2013:

(6) Guttation is a process that involves the expulsion of sap, which then forms droplets on the tips or along the edges of the plant’s leaves.

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