(Beyond Pesticides, June 27, 2017) French Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, is retaining the neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticide ban, which is set to go into effect in 2018 and is stronger than the current European Union restrictions on neonics. This decision follows a disagreement with French Agriculture Minister, Stephane Travert, who was in favor of relaxing the ban and told media outlets that he wants to address “the possibility of a number of exemptions until we find substitution products.”
In July 2016, lawmakers in France approved plans to ban neonicotinoid pesticides by 2018, based on their link to declining populations of pollinators, specifically bees. The outright ban on neonicotinoid pesticides in France was adopted by a narrow majority of the country’s National Assembly, as part of a bill to protect biodiversity. In March 2017, the European Commission (EC) 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 is still being awaited.
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 (Pesticide Action Network) 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, waterways, and overall biodiversity. A 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 neonic ban in France 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 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 beneficial organisms, including bees, 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 advocates the adoption of organic land management practices and policies by local communities that eliminate the use of toxic pesticides in our environment. See more information on the serious decline of honey and other pollinators at www.beeprotective.org.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.