France just told neonicotinoid pesticides to buzz off. On Saturday, they introduced a new law banning the use of five neonicotinoid pesticides, a controversial family of neurotoxins linked to the decline of honey bees and other crop-pollinating insects, AFP reports.
France is the first country in the world to do this. The European Union currently bans three neonicotinoids in crop fields: clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam. Even though France is part of this memorandum, they have gone even further than their European allies and decided to outlaw a further two neonicotinoids – thiacloprid and acetamiprid – and ban their use in greenhouses as well as out in the fields.
However, not everyone is happy with this news. For one, French farmers are worried about the effectiveness of alternative pesticides, thereby putting them at risk of being outcompeted by European or non-European producers. They also argue that there’s not enough conclusive evidence to make such a drastic decision.
So, here’s everything you need to know about the debate.
Neonicotinoids are a group of seven synthetic neurotoxins, chemically related to nicotine, that are used by farmers to stamp out pests. Unfortunately, these pesticides also attack the central nervous systems of honey bees and other helpful pollinating insects. An impaired central nervous system means the creatures are less able to navigate and forage. This has been clearly shown in a number of lab experiments. A study released just last month showed that bumblebees might even become “addicted” to these harmful pesticides.
One extensive real-world experiment in 2017 also suggested that the use of neonicotinoids might harm honey bee populations in the wild. That said, the data was not overwhelmingly conclusive, adding further controversy to this long saga. One of the leading voices hoping to downplay the negative effects of neonicotinoids in the experiment was Bayer, the chemical giant that manufactures imidacloprid.
However, by and large, the balance of evidence is still firmly weighed against the case for neonicotinoids. The majority of ecologists, environmentalists, and bee-lovers have been asking for this kind of action for years. Earlier this summer in June, over 230 scientists signed an open letter pledging lawmakers to restrict the use of neonicotinoids.
"It's reached a point where it's getting silly to deny that there is a link between these pesticides and harm to bees. There’s so much evidence now,” Professor Dave Goulson, a bumblebee ecologist at the University of Sussex, told IFLScience in 2017.