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Syngenta, Bayer challenge EU bee-saving pesticide ban
by Staff Writers
Geneva, Switzerland (AFP) Aug 27, 2013


Britain begins massive badger cull amid bovine TB fears
London, England (AFP) Aug 27, 2013 - A cull of thousands of badgers aimed at combating tuberculosis in cattle has begun in Britain, the National Farmers' Union said Tuesday, sparking anger among animal rights activists.

Some 5,000 of the black-and-white creatures are set to be shot under two pilot programmes in southwest England aimed at stopping the spread of TB in cattle.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) claims the controversial cull will save tens of thousands of cows from being slaughtered by limiting the spread of the disease from badgers.

But Britain's biggest animal charity, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), said many of the badgers would suffer a slow, painful death and that the cull would "not solve the problems caused by this devastating disease".

A dozen protesters have begun set up "Camp Badger" at Doniford Holt in Somerset, southwest England, vowing to stop the cull from taking place.

The activists have started patrolling the countryside in a bid to prevent marksmen from shooting at the animals.

"We are just normal, peaceful people who are outraged," said one protester who gave her name as Carla.

The environmental agency Natural England issued a licence allowing farmers to cull badgers in parts of Somerset and neighbouring Gloucestershire from June 1.

The pilot schemes were due to begin late last year but were delayed after condemnation by wildlife experts and a high-profile campaign led by Queen guitarist Brian May.

NFU president Peter Kendall said farmers recognised that the cull was divisive, but said it was necessary to combat a disease that has cost the taxpayer 500 million ($775 million, 580 million euros) over the last decade.

"We understand passions run high, but we'd ask (protesters) to remember not just the 5,000 badgers we're talking about culling in these two pilot areas, but the 38,000 cattle slaughtered," he said.

Some farming families have seen "many generations' work" destroyed by bovine TB, he added, which he said caused huge "emotional damage".

But the RSPCA raised fears that the methods used for the cull could be inhumane.

"It is very likely that many of them are lying injured, suffering a painful death," said Gavin Grant, the charity's chief executive.

"The most tragic thing is that this suffering is so needless. Science has shown that this cull is not the answer to bovine TB in cattle," he added, saying vaccination is a better means of tackling the epidemic.

But environment minister Owen Paterson insisted that no effective vaccine currently exists against bovine TB.

"We are working on new badger and cattle vaccines, but they are years away from being ready and we cannot afford to wait while TB gets worse," he said.

If successful, the government plans to roll out the cull in other rural areas hit badly by bovine TB.

Swiss agrichemical giant Syngenta and German chemicals group Bayer on Tuesday said they were taking legal action against the European Commission over its suspension of the use of an insecticide it blames for killing bees.

The two companies, which announced their challenges separately, said they were bringing their cases before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

"We would prefer not to take legal action but have no other choice given our firm belief that the Commission wrongly linked thiamethoxam to the decline in bee health," Syngenta chief operating officer John Atkin said in a statement.

In neighbouring Germany, a spokesman for Bayer said its agrochemical division Bayer CropScience had submitted its legal complaint in the middle of this month and wanted clarity for the sake of future investment.

The European Commission announced in May that it was temporarily banning the use of Syngenta's thiamethoxam, which is also sold under the name Cruiser. The product is used to treat seeds and is applied to the soil or sprayed on bee-attractive plants and cereals.

It simultaneously banned two pesticides produced by Bayer, and expanded the ban last month to a fourth pesticide made by another German company, BASF.

Syngenta and the other companies have insisted their products cannot be blamed for a very sharp decline in the bee population.

Bee numbers have slumped in Europe and the United States in recent years because of a mysterious plague dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD), which some reports have said has resulted in a loss of more than 40 percent of hives across the United States.

This has stoked fears over future food security, since bees account for 80 percent of plant pollination by insects, which is vital to global food production.

Without the work of bees, many crops would be unable to bear fruit or would have to be pollinated by hand.

But Syngenta insisted on Tuesday that it was being wrongly blamed for the problem.

"The Commission took the decision on the basis of a flawed process, an inaccurate and incomplete assessment by the European Food Safety Authority and without the full support of EU Member States," the company insisted.

The Bayer spokesman told AFP meanwhile that the company needed "dependable basic conditions with regard to future investment decisions".

No new facts had come to light since the products' approval, he argued. "In our opinion there are no new scientific findings," he said.

After the Swiss company's announcement, European Commission officials said the body "takes note" of the Syngenta statement and said it had based its measures on scientific information.

But the challenge would not affect the ban's implementation, the officials said.

The Commission's decision received support from 15 countries, including France and Germany, but eight others, including Britain, Italy and Hungary, voted against the move. Four, including current EU presidency holder Ireland, abstained.

Syngenta said the EU suspension was causing deep concern among farmers, who once the two-year-ban takes effect in December will need to replace "an extremely effective, low dose product (with) much less sustainable alternatives."

"Modern products like thiamethoxam are essential to address the challenge of increasing European food production and reducing the reliance on imports," Atkin said.

Instead of going after pesticide makers, Syngenta said, stakeholders should "concentrate on practical solutions to bee health, which most experts agree is damaged by disease, viruses and the loss of habitat and nutrition."

At 1200 GMT, the price of shares in Syngenta were down 1.4 percent to 366.6 Swiss francs, as the Swiss stock exchange's main index slumped 1.8 percent.

Shares in Bayer were down 2.2 percent to 86.60 points in afternoon trading while the Frankfurt market was 2.0 percent overall.

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