Tag Archives: European Commission

Vital European debate on wasteful fish discards

Fish Fight march, London, Britain - 25 Feb 2013

Campaigners protest outside Westminster. Photo: Rex Features

Crucial negotiations in Brussels in the next few days will decide whether the EU’s wasteful fish discards policy will come to an end.

Currently, millions of healthy fish back are thrown back into the sea each year after they have been caught, because of the way the EU’s quotas are managed.

But a ban on discards has gathered huge public backing since the TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall made it a personal campaign more than two years ago, highlighting the waste of the EU’s rapidly dwindling fish stocks. He has gathered the support of the UK fisheries minister, Richard Benyon, who will fight for the ban in an EU meeting starting on Monday.

This week’s battle will be intense. For the opponents of a ban, including Spain and Portugal, this is the last chance to scupper proposals that would mean the biggest shakeup of the EU common fisheries policy since it was brought in four decades ago.

Fearnley-Whittingstall, whose FishFight campaign has gathered more than 850,000 supporters, said that it was “crunch time” for the reforms that are needed to end the “crazy system”. He said: “We need a strong discard ban and a legally enforceable commitment to restore fish stocks to sustainable levels. To any sane person, wasting half a million tonnes of fine edible fish every year is simply unacceptable.”

A number of countries and MEPs want to keep the discards system because it allows their large fishing fleets to maximise profits. Fishermen discard parts of their catch when they have netted species for which they do not have a quota, because it leaves more room to take home the species they are after, or when they have exceeded their quota they often throw back smaller specimens. They also throw back lower-value species for which there is less commercial demand.

All of these measures allow fishermen to maximise their profits, taking ashore only the most valuable section of their catch and throwing the rest away – even though the discarded fish are healthy and edible. Reform would mean they have to land the whole catch, which should help to stop the plunder of the EU’s dwindling fish stocks.

If the reformers win the day, there could be a discards ban in place for many important species within a year, with the rest phased in over the next three to five years. Fishing rights would also have to be set according to scientific advice as to the “maximum sustainable yield”.

Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “The French and Spanish may have learned to profit from this crazy system down the years, but now it has to end. Kowtowing to their calls for compromise and threats of blocking reform is simply not an option.”

Action to save bees: EU to ban killer pesticides

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Great news! After months of campaigning by environmentalists, the European Commission has taken action to protect bees by restricting the use of harmful chemicals in pesticides.

Fifteen countries voted in favour of a ban and, even though the vote was split, the Commission imposed a two-year restriction on three neonicotinoids, which research has shown to harm bees  – and the UK cannot opt out.

The ban means neonicotinoids  will not be used on crops that are attractive to bees and other pollinators, there will be a ban on the sale of neonicotinoids to amateur growers.

The Commission says it wants the moratorium to begin no later than 1 December this year. After today’s vote, EU Health Commissioner, Tonio Borg, said “I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over 22bn euros (£18.5bn; $29bn) annually to European agriculture, are protected.”

The UK was among eight countries that voted against the ban,  arguing that the science behind the proposal is inconclusive.  Four nations also abstained. But Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said the vote “makes it crystal clear that there is overwhelming scientific, political and public support for a ban. Those countries opposing a ban have failed.”

A report by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) in January concluded the pesticides posed “a high risk” to pollinators, including honeybees.

There was intensive lobbying in the run-up to Monday’s vote. Protesters against neonicotinoids rallied in Westminster on Friday and campaign organiser Andrew Pendleton of Friends of the Earth said “leading retailers have already taken action by removing these pesticides from their shelves and supply chains – the UK government must act too”.

Anger as pesticides escape European ban

Rally calling on the EU to ban the use of bee poisons and other pesticides in Brussels

Pic: Eric Vidal/Reuters

There was widespread anger as the European proposal to protect bees from toxic pesticides failed to get a majority.

Campaigners across the continent hoped the European Commission’s proposed two-year suspension of neonicotinoids would be passed, but major nations, including UK and Germany, failed to back the plan in a vote on Friday.

The result leaves environmental campaigners, scientists and some politicians bitterly disappointed. “Britain and Germany have caved in to the industry lobby and refused to ban bee-killing pesticides” said Iain Keith, of the campaign group Avaaz. “Today’s vote flies in the face of science and public opinion and maintains the disastrous chemical armageddon on bees, which are critical for the future of our food.

“But the European Commission will appeal the decision and can still get it adopted! This week we got Spain on our side, let’s keep up the pressure on Germany, the UK and other countries who abstained or opposed today.”

Suspensions have previously been put in place in France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia, but the EC proposal would have applied across all 27 member states. Many major agricultural nations, including France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Poland, voted for the ban, while the UK and Germany abstained, with Hungary and Romania leading those opposed.

However, the ban could still be enforced within months if the EC takes the decision to an appeals committee. Friday’s vote, by member states’ experts on the standing committee on the food chain and animal health, saw 13 nations in favour of the ban, five abstaining and nine opposing, meaning there was no majority for or against.

Online petition persuades EU to act on harmful pesticides

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Success! The European Commission has listened to the 2.2 million people who signed the Avaaz online petition and proposed that member states restrict the use of  three neonicotinoid pesticides  linked to the decline of bees.

The Commission will be asking EU countries to suspend the use of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam  on sunflowers, rapeseed, cotton, maize and other crops which bees are attracted to. The proposals mean the chemicals could be banned from use on flowering crops in Europe as early as July.

European Commission health spokesman Frederic Vincent said: “We are requesting member states to suspend for two years the use of the pesticides on seeds, granulates and sprays for crops which attract bees. We hope the regulation can be adopted before March.”

The proposals will enter EU law on 25 February if a majority of Europe’s member states vote in favour. France and the Netherlands are supportive but the UK and Germany are reported to be reluctant. The Commission wants restrictions in place by July and the measures will be reviewed after two years.

Luis Morago, from campaign group Avaaz , said:  “This could mark a tipping point in our battle, but it does not go far enough. Over 2.2 million people want the European Commission to face-down spurious German and British opposition and push for comprehensive ban of neonicotinoid pesticides!”

Friends of the Earth also believes this “hugely significant EU proposal” promises a first, important step on the road to turning around the decline of our bees. “The UK Government must throw its weight behind this,” it said. “The evidence linking neonicotinoids to declining bee populations is growing. We can’t afford to ignore the threat they pose to these crucial pollinators.”