As regular visitors to this blog know, the Risk-Monger has a problem with how certain activists have interpreted the precautionary principle for their own interest, and a very big problem with how DG Sanco pushed through the precautionary principle to “save the bees” earlier this year. I suspect that certain actions were not conducted with due diligence or propriety, and I don’t think this issue should allowed to simply be dropped. I am trying to put together a picture, but many issues remain unclear.
Here is what we know.
- In 2012, scientific consensus was forming around several studies concluding that 85% of the bee colony collapse disorder (CCD) is due to the Varroa mite virus that has been weakening the bees. See the 2012 University of Sheffield publication in Science, that confirmed the findings in the 2009 University of Guelph study.
- As expected, anti-pesticide groups increased their lobbying in 2012 against neonicotinoids, a group of pesticides, citing the threat to the bees.
- DG SANCO asked EFSA a question on whether neonics could be a threat to bee health. EFSA’s reply ruled out CCD but admitted there were data gaps in an industry study (NB: Data gap means there is a need for further study, a standard paragraph inserted in many studies).
- In less than two weeks from the 16 January 2013 EFSA publication, SANCO calls for the immediate ban on three types of neonics, without any impact assessment, citing the precautionary principle and CCD. There was no question of risk management steps for avoiding exposing bees to dust during planting.
- The European Council rejected the ban, but after some strong lobbying from DG SANCO, a little known beekeeper association that suddenly became fiercely skilled at campaigning and the anti-lobbying lobby groups, this decision was reversed and the ban was rushed in.
All of this happened within four months in 2013, a record for precautionary campaigns. My experience would tell me that such things don’t just happen. The European Commission normally should read its scientific advice from its agencies and authorities and not respond with proposed precautionary bans within two weeks without consultation. Unless, of course, someone in DG SANCO was agenda driven.
Here is what I don’t know
- Who asked the question in SANCO and came to the conclusion to ignore EFSA’s detailed research on CCD? In essence, who was pulling the strings and calling the shots (and able to push a decision to unilaterally ban important crop protection products within two weeks)?
- What was the urgency in SANCO to hammer this through without the support of many member states and without an impact assessment? With many different views on the causes of CCD (which is technically not happening in the EU, although anecdotes abound), several national bans on neonics not providing evidence of improved bee populations and a scientific consensus forming around the Varroa mite virus as the cause, why did corners need to be cut? Has SANCO been infiltrated by anti-crop protection militants?
- How does EFSA feel about the abuse of their advice?
- Who was behind this little-known bee-keeper association who suddenly had the scope and funding to reach into every European capital and play hardball? Which NGOs and activists were operating in their name?
- What else is the European Commission doing to find a solution to CCD (eg, funding research into the Varroa mite virus, reducing mono-culture techniques …)?
I realise that it is merely crop protection and chemical companies that will suffer and nobody really cares about them (farmers will get reimbursed for their losses and we will pay more for our imported food since we have accepted that European farmers can no longer compete with technologies from the Middle Ages), but shouldn’t any abuse of procedure and political bias in the European Commission be an issue? If industry had been behind such a process of influence, I suspect Barroso would be enjoying his pension by now.
The Risk-Monger is going to start digging into this abuse of the precautionary principle which he plans to share in a future blog. He suspects there is a hornet’s nest somewhere and feels this story should be told. If anyone has information to help me in my research, please inform me either in the comment section, or, if the material is sensitive, via personal contact (any comment to this blog is moderated by me so mark your contact as confidential to avoid publication or just send me your email address).