It’s party time for bees and other species, because, starting today, the chemical pesticide fipronil can’t be used anymore in agriculture across Europe.
Fipronil is a common pesticide used in agriculture and sparked an international food scandal last summer because the toxic substance was used illegally in chicken stables, contaminating eggs and eggs derivatives. So far, 26 European countries and 23 non-EU countries — in total 49 countries — have been affected. The extent of the contamination shows how our food and agriculture system is broken. It’s time to leave toxic substances behind and rethink the food we eat and produce.
However, improper and illegal use of fipronil is not the only concern. Fipronil is also notorious because it’s harmful to bees and other pollinators. In the past, it was widely used on crops to protect crops against pests. Low doses of fipronil were applied to the seeds before sowing. The end result was the intoxication of the bees harvesting on the nectar and pollen of those fields treated with the toxic chemical.
Fipronil used on crops posed an unacceptable risk to bees and Greenpeace has been actively pushing for a phase-out of fipronil as part of its “Save the bees” campaign. In 2013 the European Commission strongly restricted the use of fipronil in agriculture.
Fipronil use has been gradually reduced since then, and more and more EU countries stopped using it. From today onwards the use of fipronil on crops is forbidden in the entire EU. This is great news for bees, bumblebees, butterflies and many other insects.
However, other harmful pesticides are still on the market, threatening bees and other species. Neonicotinoids, which were also partially restricted in 2013, are now in the eye of the storm as mounting scientific evidence shows their toxic effects on bees and other species.
Recent data has shown that neonicotinoids are dangerous in fields, not only when tested in laboratories. Last March the European Commission put forward a proposal to further restrict clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, the three most known neonicotinoides. However, no decision or action to ban them has been taken despite the evidence of their hazardous effects indicates that they should also go.
Tackling individual substances is a short term solution, however it doesn’t address the heart of the matter: industrial agriculture is not viable as it poses too many risks for our planet. A different agricultural model must be adopted globally and urgently. Ecological farming can help us face big challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss or water pollution. It also provides healthy sustainable food for everybody.
With the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy to be debated soon in the EU, we will have a chance to discuss how to promote ecological farming and avoid further food scandals and to stop the decline of bees and other species.
In the meantime, here’s 12 things you can do to start an eco-food revolution.
Luís Ferreirim is a Food for Life campaigner with Greenpeace Spain