18 September 2018

Insectageddon: are EU pesticide authorisation regulations good enough?

BIjendag botanische tuinen

The newly revealed scale of losses to all insect species has prompted warnings of insectageddon, with profound ecological and human impacts. Utrecht University’s Jeroen van der Sluijs was invited to speak at the European Parliament PEST Committee about why we should care about pesticides use and what needs to change in European regulations.

Insects are essential to life on Earth as pollinators, prey for other wildlife, and for nutrient cycling. It has been known for some time that species such as butterflies and wild bee species were in sharp decline. But the newly revealed scale of losses to all insect species has prompted warnings of insect Armageddon, with profound impacts on human society. According to Jeroen van der Sluijs, a major factor in this “insectageddon” is the large-scale prophylactic use of ever more ecotoxic pesticides.

How well is the EU regulating pesticides?

On 6th September 2018, van der Sluijs was part of a panel of experts at the European Parliament PEST Committee hearing. The panel aimed to provide insights and recommendations on how to tackle the shortcomings of the EU’s pesticide authorisation procedure. What methodologies are used and what is their scientific quality? Are procedures independent from industry, and how transparent is the decision making process?

Pesticide risks not adequately assessed at EU level

According to van der Sluijs, the public health and environmental risks of pesticides are not adequately assessed at EU level. Assessments do not include up-to-date scientific knowledge or criteria, leading to flawed protocols. Further to this, “it takes a very long time to update risk assessment guidelines to include new scientific insights and get new guidelines approved by all member states. Typically, the guidelines lag 15 years behind the scientific state of knowledge”.

Industry dominance and a lack of transparency

“Industry interests dominate expert panels of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and dominate the design of guidelines and protocols for regulatory risk assessment,” wrote van der Sluijs in the answers to the preparatory questions. At the moment industry carries out the risk assessment of its own products and these studies are not public. “[This] can thus not be scrutinized and quality controlled by other scientists and the general public, [which] is fundamentally wrong”.

About Jeroen van der Sluijs

Jeroen van der Sluijs is a part-time Associate Professor of new risks at the Environmental Sciences section of the Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development, Utrecht University and professor at the University of Bergen, Norway. In 2007 Jeroen became one of the first to raise the issue in science and policy of the unprecedented damage of neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been linked to honeybee colony collapse disorder (CCD). Since then he has broadened the debate from disappearance of honeybees to the larger picture of insectageddon.