Any neonicotinoids in this?
Controversial insecticides known as neonicotinoids pose a danger to wild bees and managed honey bees, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma, Italy, said in a report released today.
Bayer, a maker of so-called neonics, disputed EFSA’s findings, Science magazine said in its report on the EFSA’s work. But the new study is likely to give a boost to the push for tighter European regulation of the chemicals.
Science described neonicotinoids as systemic pesticides.
Often, they are used to coat seeds to protect them when they are planted in the ground. After the seed germinates, the pesticide spreads throughout the growing plant and guards it against nibbling insects. But the insecticide is also present in the nectar and pollen, meaning pollinators get dosed, too. Many studies have shown that the chemicals can affect the ability of honey bees to learn and forage, although industry scientists have disputed whether the experiments are realistic enough.
The European Commission last year proposed—but has not yet adopted—extending a partial ban on neonics to all field crops.
In 2013, the commission banned the use of three neonics—imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam—on flowering field crops such as corn, sunflower, and rapeseed. The pesticides can still be used in greenhouses, winter cereals, and for spraying certain crops after they flower.
The ban was based on a review by EFSA.
Starting in 2015, EFSA staff analysed 588 new studies, including some that looked at effects on bumble bees and solitary bees, Science reported.
The conclusion: Most uses of neonics pose a risk to both managed honey bees and wild bees, although the level of risk varies by species and route of exposure. The three pesticides can hinder learning and navigation in bees, for example, and harm reproduction. One likely way that wild bees are exposed is through contamination of plants other than the crops. Neonicotinoids in farm soil can spread via water or wind-blown dust to nearby ground, where the pesticides are absorbed by weeds and wildflowers. EFSA admitted that “information on this phenomenon is somewhat limited” but concluded that it could be a way for bees to be exposed to harmful amounts of neonics.
Reporting on the EFSA findings, Radio New Zealand noted there is some use of the controversial pesticide in this country, but it is controlled by the Environmental Protection Authority.
Radio NZ quoted Professor Phil Lester, from Victoria University, who is one New Zealand’s leading insect experts. He said the findings were concerning.
“It is worrying, no one wants to see honey bees die and our pollinator populations collapse.”
“(The study) is a massive piece of work, it’s 1500 papers that they’ve reviewed so it’s very very expensive. I’m sure countries all around the world will be lapping it up and utilising it.”
Professor Lester said the new analysis was much more significant than any done before it, because it was not a single study on one particular country.
“I think it will be of use. New Zealand is still quite different from Europe so we have to interpret those findings in light of our crops and the way New Zealand uses neonicotinoids.”
He said while bees were vital to the agricultural sector for pollinating crops, pesticide use was a balancing act.
“We also need to recognise that agriculture needs to use pesticides at times, we’re not in a situation at the moment where we can stop using pesticides.”
The Environmental Protection Authority told Radio NZ it had been keeping up with the new analysis and is waiting for publication of the risk assessments.
It said it would review this fully before commenting on any possible implications for New Zealand.