(Beyond Pesticides, March 27, 2017) The European Commission (EC) has proposed a complete ban of agricultural uses of the widely used bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides across Europe under draft regulations. The EC cites neonicotinoids’ “high acute risks to bees.” In 2013, three neonicotinoids were temporarily banned because of concerns about their high toxicity to bees. A vote by member states can happen as early as May 2017.
According to Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe, the European Commission has presented to Member States its draft regulations to ban the neonicotinoids: imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. Three draft regulations to ban the three bee-toxic neonicotinoids across the entire EU were submitted to the Standing Committee on Plant, Animal, Food and Feed. These will be open to comments from Member States and a first vote on the Commission’s proposal could take place in May 2017. The new proposals are for a complete ban on the three neonicotinoid uses in fields, with the only exception being for plants grown in greenhouses. There would need to be a positive vote from 55% of the Member States representing 65% of EU citizens (qualified majority) to implement the proposal.
In 2013, the European Commission voted to suspend the use of the neonicotinoid pesticides for two years in order to protect severely declining and threatened bee populations. The moratorium came several months after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released a report identifying “high acute risk” to honey bees from uses of the neonicotinoids. After the 2013 moratorium, the pesticide manufacturers Bayer and Syngenta were requested to provide the Commission with additional data. Subsequently, EFSA carried out updated risk assessments in 2015 and 2016, which again confirmed risks to bees. According to PAN Europe, the information provided by Syngenta was not sufficient to improve the risk assessment and the majority of the risks could not be characterized, and EFSA concluded ‘high risk cannot be excluded.’ The agency identified new high risks to bees concerning Bayer’s clothianidin and imidacloprid. Further assessment of neonicotinoid uses (granules and seed treatment uses) is currently in progress by EFSA and should be formally released sometime this year.
Neonicotinoids are highly toxic to bees and a growing body of scientific literature has linked them to pollinator decline in general. Neonicotinoids are associated with decreased foraging and navigational ability, as well as increased vulnerability to pathogens and parasites as a result of suppressed bee immune systems. In addition to toxicity to bees, neonicotinoids have been shown to also adversely affect birds, aquatic organisms, and contaminate soil and waterways, and overall biodiversity. A recent review of the science, “The Environmental Risks of Neonicotinoid Pesticides: a review of the evidence post-2013,” authored by Dave Goulson, PhD, and Thomas James Wood, a PhD candidate, concludes that studies published since EFSA’s risk assessments in 2013 show even greater risks, and identify the range of lethal and sublethal effects of the chemicals on non-target organism.
The proposal to ban neonicotinoids in Europe comes as Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) is finalizing its proposal to phase out imidacloprid after its reevaluation assessment finds that current levels of imidacloprid in aquatic environments pose risks to aquatic invertebrates. PMRA notes that, “Based on currently available information, the continued high volume use of imidacloprid in agricultural areas is not sustainable.” Uses proposed for phase out: trees (except when applied as a tree trunk injection), greenhouse uses, outdoor agricultural uses (including ornamentals), commercial seed treatment uses, turf (such as lawns, golf courses, and sod farms), and lawns.
Similarly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2017 assessment also finds that imidacloprid poses risks to aquatic organisms, and has concentrations in U.S. waters that threaten sensitive species. However, at the same time, EPA said that the other neonicotinoids (clothianidin, thiamethoxam, dinotefuran) present “no significant risks” to honey bees, despite finding multiple instances where bees are at risk of toxic exposure. EPA, however, has not made a final decision on the registration of imidacloprid or the other neonicotinoids, nor on whether restrictions to protect vulnerable species will be implemented. The agency is scheduled to make a final decision in 2018.
In light of the shortcomings of federal action in the U.S. to protect these beneficial organisms, it is left up to us to act. You can pledge to stop using neonicotinoids and other toxic pesticides. Sign the pollinator protection pledge today. Beyond Pesticides also advocates the adoption of organic land management practices and policies by local communities that eliminate the use of toxic pesticides in our environment.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.