05.03.2018 |

Neonic pesticides harm bees, European watchdog confirms

Neonics harm wild bees and honeybees (Photo: CC0)

Neonicotinoid pesticides pose a serious threat to wild bees and honeybees, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has found. In a report published on Wednesday, the European watchdog updated its previous risk assessments of three neonicotinoids – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – that are currently subject to restrictions in the EU because they harm bees. For the new assessments, which this time cover wild bees – bumblebees and solitary bees – as well as honeybees, EFSA’s Pesticides Unit collected and analysed 588 new studies. Altogether, EFSA considered more than 1,500 studies for the assessment. “There is variability in the conclusions, due to factors such as the bee species, the intended use of the pesticide and the route of exposure,” EFSA said. “Some low risks have been identified, but overall the risk to the three types of bees we have assessed is confirmed,” the watchdog concluded.

Scientists and environmentalists, many of whom had long warned against the use of neonics, welcomed the assessment. “This is an important announcement by EFSA that most uses of neonicotinoids are a risk to all bee species,” said Prof Christopher Connolly, who teaches Neurobiology at the University of Dundee. “Importantly they identify that high risk does not result from direct exposure to non-flowering crops, but to subsequent indirect exposure from field margins, adjacent crops and succeeding crops,” he added. Prof Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, said that “in essence, the new EFSA report concludes that neonicotinoids are very likely to be harming both wild and domesticated bees.” He stressed that this time the evidence was stronger than in 2013. “The report also highlights remaining knowledge gaps, which are considerable. This is inevitable, given that there are nearly 2,000 species of bee in Europe, most of which have never been studied with regard to impacts of pesticides.”

The EFSA report is considered as crucial to whether the European moratorium on neonicotinoid use that was introduced in 2013 is to remain in place. In March 2017, the European Commission proposed a ban on the three neonicotinoids, except when they are used in greenhouses. On 22 March, its Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed will discuss the new EFSA assessment. “This is strengthening the scientific basis for the Commission’s proposal to ban outdoor use of the three neonicotinoids,” a spokeswoman for the Commission was quoted by Reuters. Environmental campaigners are calling for a complete ban of the use of neonicotinoids. “The evidence is overwhelming that bees, and the crops and plants they pollinate, are at dire risk from neonicotinoid pesticides,” said Franziska Achterberg, EU food policy adviser for Greenpeace. “National governments must stop dithering and back the proposed EU neonicotinoid ban as the first step to prevent the catastrophic collapse of bee populations,” she added. (ab)

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