(Beyond Pesticides, July 18, 2013) A few months after the groundbreaking decision to suspend the use of three neonicotinoids shown to be highly toxic to bees, the European Commission is moving forward again with a proposal to restrict the use of the insecticide fipronil, which has also been identified as posing an acute risk to honey bees. The proposal is backed by a Member State experts meeting in the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health.
This proposal follows a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) scientific risk assessment, published on May 27, 2013, which found that seeds treated with pesticides containing fipronil pose an acute risk to Europe’s honey bee population. According to this assessment, it was found that fipronil poses a high acute risk to honeybees when used as a seed treatment for corn. Specifically, EFSA concluded that high acute risk from dust drift resulting from treated corn exists, and identified several data gaps and study limitations for other field crops. Data on nectar and pollen could not be evaluated.
23 Member States supported the fipronil restriction, 2 Member States voted against and 3 Member States abstained during the standing committee vote. This latest EU-wide restriction comes in the wake of a recent Commission decision to restrict the use of three pesticides that belong to the neonicotinoid family – imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, which will come into force on December 1, 2013 as well as a guidance document on a risk assessment of plant protection products on bees published by EFSA on July 12, 2013.
The EU’s proposed measure does the following:
- Restricts the crops where fipronil can be used as a seed treatment;
- Authorizations may be granted for the treatment of seeds that will only be sown in greenhouses. However, this exception does not apply to leeks, shallots, onions and brassica vegetables (such as brussel sprouts, cauliflower or broccoli), where treated seeds can also be sown in the field, as the harvest of these crops takes place before flowering;
- The treatment of maize and sunflower seeds will no longer be authorized.
According to Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective campaign, outside the neonicotinoid class of insecticides, fipronil has been heavily implicated in elevated bee toxicity and decline. The chemical is widely used for indoor and turf pest control in the U.S., and is a generation of insecticide that is highly toxic. Fipronil has been shown to reduce behavioral function and learning performances in honeybees. One 2011 French study reported that newly emerged honey bees exposed to low doses of fipronil and thiacloprid succumbed more readily to the parasite Nosema ceranae compared to healthy bees, supporting the hypothesis that the synergistic combination of parasitic infection and high pesticide exposures in beehives may contribute to colony decline. An extensive overview of the major studies showing the effects of pesticides on pollinator health can be found on Beyond Pesticides’ What the Science Shows webpage.
Tonio Borg, Commissioner for Health said, “A few weeks ago, in the aftermath of the restriction on use of neonicotinoids, I pledged to do my utmost to protect Europe’s honey bee population and today’s agreement with Member States, not only delivers on that pledge but marks another significant step in realizing the Commission’s overall strategy to tackling Europe’s bee decline.”
The new restriction on fipronil will apply from December 31, 2013. Seeds that have been treated can be sown up until February 28, 2014. National authorities are responsible for ensuring that the restrictions are correctly applied.
On March 21, 3013 Beyond Pesticides joined beekeepers, environmental and consumer groups in filing a lawsuit in Federal District Court against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its failure to protect pollinators from dangerous pesticides. The coalition seeks suspension of the registrations of insecticides -clothianidin and thiamethoxam- which have repeatedly been identified as highly toxic to honey bees, clear causes of major bee kills and significant contributors to the devastating ongoing mortality of bees known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). The suit challenges EPA’s oversight of these bee-killing pesticides, as well as the agency’s practice of “conditional registration” and labeling deficiencies.
Fipronil is classified by EPA as a Group C (Possible Human) carcinogen based on rat carcinogenicity studies. It has also been linked to hormone disruption, thyroid cancer, neurotoxicity and reproductive effects in mammals. Fipronil is highly toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates, highly toxic to bees, highly toxic to upland game birds, and moderately toxic to waterfowl, but is practically non-toxic to mallard ducks and other bird species. Some fipronil formulations present a risk to endangered bird, fish, and aquatic and marine invertebrates. The metabolite fipronil-sulfone is more toxic to birds, and both fipronil-sulfone and fipronil-thioether are more highly toxic to freshwater invertebrates than fipronil itself. See fipronil on the Pesticide Gateway
Alternatives to Fipronil
Fipronil is used mainly for structural pest control, i.e. control of termites, ants, cockroaches.
However there are many alternatives available for the control of structural pests. The recommended method is the implementation of an integrated pest management plan (IPM) that includes one or more pest control methods, including sanitation, structural repairs that prevent insects from entering structures, mechanical controls and other non-chemical methods.
Least-toxic pesticide options include:
- boric acid & disodium octobrate tetrahydrate
- diatomaceous earth and silica gels
- essential oils
- microbial pesticides
- nonvolitile baits
For more information on pest control alternatives, see the Least-toxic Control of Pests fact sheets at here.
Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective campaign has all the educational tools you need to help pollinators. Sign the Pesticide Free Zone Declaration and pledge to maintain your yard, park, garden or other green space as organically-managed and pollinator friendly, or use our model resolution to transform your community and raise awareness about pollinator health For more information, see Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective webpage.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.