After a European Commission vote yesterday (Monday 29th April 2013), Europe will enforce the world’s first continent-wide ban on neonicotinoid insecticides after concerns about their non-target impact on bee pollinators.
The vote by the 27 European Union member states on whether to suspend the use of neonicotinoid insecticides was supported by 15 nations. The UK did not support the ban.
The suspension is a victory for environmental campaigners and is backed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Greenpeace’s chief scientist Doug Parr said “By not supporting the ban, environment secretary Owen Paterson has exposed the UK government as being in the pocket of big chemical companies and the industrial farming lobby”.
There have been a small number of high profile scientific studies which have linked neonicotinoids to reductions in the number of queen bees produced and increases in the number of worker bees leaving the hive and not returning. In January, the EFSA concluded that three neonicotinoids- thiamethoxam, clothianidin and imidacloprid- posed an unacceptable risk to bees. The three neonicotinoid insecticides will be restricted from use for two years on flowering crops such as oilseed rape and sunflowers which are attractive to pollinators such as bees. The restrictions are expected to be imposed no later than 1st December this year.
It has been argued that many of the studies which appear to show a link between neonicotinoids and poor bee health have been conducted in the laboratory and do not accurately reflect field conditions. In particular, it has been criticised that the insecticide dose rates used in some of the studies are extreme and unlikely to be encountered by bees in the field, where a variety of different, untreated pollen and nectar sources are also available.
Others are concerned that the restrictions placed on neonicotinoids will mean that farmers start using older chemicals such as pyrethroid insecticides which are potentially more harmful to beneficial insects and the environment. Neonicotinoids are commonly applied as seed treatments, which are a targeted pesticide application method that reduces the amount of spraying and associated spray drift in the environment. Since it takes on average 10 years and £300 million to move from pesticide discovery to a product being commercially available, it is not a quick process to create new seed treatments as an alternative to neonicotinoids.
Chemical company Syngenta have said that “the proposal ignores a wealth of evidence from the field that these pesticides do not damage the health of bees” and highlight other important factors in bee declines including habitat loss and bee pests and diseases. Similarly a spokesman for Bayer Cropscience said: “Bayer remains convinced neonicotinoids are safe for bees, when used responsibly and properly … clear scientific evidence has taken a back-seat in the decision-making process”.
Do you think the EU is right to restrict the use of neonicotinoids? Let us know what you think by commenting on this post.
Elston, C., Thompson, H.M., & Walters, K.A., (2013), ‘Sub-lethal Effects of thiamethoxam, a neonicotinoid pesticide, and propiconazole, a DMI fungicide, on colony initiation in bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) micro-colonies’, Apidologie, DOI: 10.1007/s13592-013-0206-9
Gill, R., Ramos-Rodriguez, O., & Raine, N. (2012). Combined pesticide exposure severely affects individual- and colony-level traits in bees Nature, 491 (7422), 105-108 DOI: 10.1038/nature11585
Whitehorn, P., O’Connor, S., Wackers, F., & Goulson, D. (2012). Neonicotinoid Pesticide Reduces Bumble Bee Colony Growth and Queen Production Science, 336 (6079), 351-352 DOI: 10.1126/science.1215025