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17 May 2023

Public Eye

European companies export huge quantities of banned, bee-killing pesticides from EU to countries in the Global South posing a global threat to biodiversity and food security, new investigation reveals

"EU sending huge quantities of banned, bee-killing pesticides to poorer countries, documents reveal"

New investigation shows for first time the full scale of the EU’s trade in neonicotinoid chemicals it has branded a global threat to biodiversity and food security.

The European Union is exporting more than 10,000 tonnes of ‘bee killing’ neonicotinoid pesticides a year to poorer countries, despite having banned the use of these chemicals in its own fields to protect pollinators.

That is the key finding of a new investigation by Unearthed and Public Eye, which reveals for the first time the full scale of Europe’s continued trade in banned ‘neonic’ pesticides.

Documents obtained under freedom of information laws show that in 2021 EU companies issued plans to export more than 13,200 tonnes of banned insecticides containing around 2,930 tonnes of the neonicotinoid active ingredients thiamethoxam, imidacloprid or clothianidin.

This is the first time it has been possible to track a full year’s worth of these exports since the EU prohibited all outdoor use of these chemicals on its own farms in 2018. [...]

“We consider it an act of aggression, of ecocide, and a violation of human rights to sell toxic substances that are highly dangerous to human health and pollinating insects,”

SADA secretary Pedro Kaufmann told Unearthed and Public Eye. Neonicotinoids, he added, are a “serious threat to our food security” that are “devastating the world’s pollinator population” and causing environmental damage “of a magnitude that is still difficult to grasp”. [...]

The EU itself considers neonics to pose such a grave threat to biodiversity and food security that it has just passed a law that will ban the import of foods containing all but the lowest detectable traces of thiamethoxam or clothianidin. This law, passed in February, says there is “a substantial body of evidence showing that active substances which are neonicotinoids, such as clothianidin and thiamethoxam, play an important role in the decline of bees and other pollinators worldwide”.

Because this is an “international concern”, it continues, the EU needs to take steps to protect pollinators worldwide from the risks of these chemicals: “Preserving the pollinator population within the [EU] only would be insufficient to reverse the worldwide decline of pollinator populations and its effects on biodiversity, agricultural production and food security.”

Despite its stance, the EU continues to ship thousands of tonnes of these same banned neonics overseas each year.

[...] Unearthed and Public Eye’s investigation identified more than a dozen different companies exporting banned neonics from the EU, including the giant multinational pesticide companies Syngenta, Bayer, and BASF. Those who commented for this story said they believed their products were safe for bees when used as intended, that pesticides were vital for protecting crop yields, and that while these neonics were banned in the EU they remained licensed in many countries around the world.

Some also said a ban on the export of banned pesticides would be “counterproductive”, or argued that countries should be free to make their own decisions about which chemicals are right for their own farmers.

“In our opinion, countries should decide for themselves and sovereignly which crop protection products are needed for their local agriculture instead of imposing a unilateral trade ban,” said a spokesperson for the German agrochemical giant BASF. “We believe that an export ban does not help those it is intended to protect.”

He argued that a lack of “carefully tested” pesticides in importing countries could lead to “unsafe harvests” for farmers. Conversely, he added that if Europe banned these exports then farmers in importing countries could simply replace them with “the same or similar products” produced in other places with “lower safety standards”. [...]

“While classic colonialism was conducted through physical violence, such as deforestation, expulsion of indigenous peoples and so on, now we are facing a more cruel and perverse form of colonialism,” said Larissa Bombardi, a professor of geography at the University of São Paulo and expert in Brazilian pesticide use. “Because this chemical colonialism is invisible, it is silent and it has spread in our soils, in our bodies, in our water.” [...]