Following the endorsement of European Union (EU) Member States, the European Commission (EC) has adopted regulations to completely ban the outdoor uses of the neonicotinoids imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam.
In February the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) published its scientific reviews of the evidence linking the use of neonicotinoid pesticides to the harm and decline of bees. The authority concluded that imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam all pose a high risk to wild bees and managed Honey bees Apis mellifera. For another neonicotinoid, acetamiprid, EFSA established a low risk to bees. Member States subsequently endorsed the Commission’s proposals to completely ban the outdoor uses of the three active substances imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, with the regulations being adopted by the commission on 29th May 2018.
The pesticide industry and the National Farmers Union (NFU) have been heavily criticised by the invertebrate conservation charity Buglife for issuing ‘misleading propaganda’ and delaying the ban by being ‘wholly obstructive’.
The pesticide companies Bayer and Syngenta had also challenged the EU’s decisions, claiming that the EC exceeded its remit and that the economic cost of the ban to the pesticide industry should have been a key factor in the decision. They also argued against the use of the European Food and Safety Agency bee-risk assessment document. The EU Court of Justice ruled against Bayer and Syngenta, confirming the legality of the 2013 European Commission decision to protect bees by introducing a ban on the use of three neonicotinoid insecticides on flowering crops. The EU Court of Justice said that applying the ‘precautionary principle’ was legitimate. The EU was right to take action if there was scientific uncertainty about risks to human health or the environment, it was not necessary to wait until it was proved that harm had been caused.
The imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam ban only applies to outdoor use, meaning that these pesticides continue to be used as a plant protection treatment for greenhouse crops. They also continue to be used as a treatment for the parasites of pets.
While much has been made of the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on pollinator populations in recent years, a number of other factors have also contributed to observed declines. These include climate change, habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, parasites, urbanisation and agricultural intensification.
More information about the current status of neonicotinoids in the EU can be found on the European Commission website.
Update: December 2018
Bumblebee experts Prof Dave Goulson and Dr Paul Williams share their views on the subject in this very informative article:
Bee declines: is banning pesticides the solution?