EU Food Safety Agency Confirms That Neonicotinoid Pesticides Pose a Danger to Bees

After a major review of scientific evidence, the European Food Safety Authority has concluded that neonicotinoids harm bees. The announcement has prompted calls for a Europe-wide ban on neonicotinoid pesticides.

In its press release, entitled ”Neonicotinoids: Risks to Bees Confirmed,“ the EFSA states:

Most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides represent a risk to wild bees and honeybees, according to assessments published today by EFSA. The Authority has updated its risk assessments of three neonicotinoids – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – that are currently subject to restrictions in the EU because of the threat they pose to bees.

These new conclusions update those published in 2013, after which the European Commission imposed controls on use of the substances.

The EFSA embarked on this review as European authorities prepare to decide whether to continue Europe’s restrictions on several neonicotinoids, a ruling that is due in April.

These substances form the main ingredient in many of the world’s most popular pest control products, and they’ve become a staple for the farming community. However, scientific research has repeatedly demonstrated an impact on bees. While the impact varies between species and depending on the degree of exposure, a scientific consensus has been clear for some time: Neonicotinoids are contributing to pollinator die-off.

In this latest review, the EFSA examined an extensive range of data, as well as agency criteria established in guidance documents, to determine the potential impact on bees. And this research didn’t just look at honeybees — a species that is often the focus in this kind of study; it also examines bumblebees and other species of wild bees, allowng for a broader assessment of neonicotinoid impacts.

In total, the scientists considered the results of more than 1,500 studies involving the three major neonicotinoids used in Europe: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam.

The EFSA found that the impact of neonicotinoids varied between species and depending upon how the neonicotinoids were deployed in real farming settings. Even so, researchers found enough evidence to state categorically that neonicotinoids are damaging bee health.

Jose Tarazona, head of EFSA’s Pesticides Unit, explained:

The availability of such a substantial amount of data as well as the guidance has enabled us to produce very detailed conclusions. 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. Some low risks have been identified, but overall the risk to the three types of bees we have assessed is confirmed.

These findings update the EFSA’s 2013 guidance that found an “unacceptable” risk to bees. Going forward, the results will be available for the European Commission and European member states to consider in future policymaking.

The Guardian notes that, in 2017, draft legislation surfaced that would ban neonicotinoids from fields across Europe. Scientists are now advocating for this kind of action when Europe considers extending its existing ban on neonicotinoids, a decision that is due next month.

However, neonicotinoids producer Bayer maintains that the assessments do not warrant an extension of the ban. A company spokesperson stated:

Bayer fundamentally disagrees with EFSA’s updated risk assessment conclusions for the active substances imidacloprid and clothianidin. EFSA’s findings place it outside the current mainstream science on bee health, as represented by recent similar assessments done by agencies such as the US EPA and Canadian PMRA.

The U.S. EPA has been under considerable pressure to reassess neonicotinoids after the agency claimed last year that the pest control measures do not pose a significant risk to bees. In fact, the EPA has now invited public comment on neonicotinoid use.

While no research claims that these pesticides are the sole driving force between pollinator decline, their impact on bees’ ability to thrive has been repeatedly demonstrated in both lab and real-world settings.

For Bayer to pick and choose which risk assessments it wants to believe seems, at best, suspect — particularly when there are significant concerns about how the EPA assessed this risk.

In November of last year, the UK’s Environment Secretary Michael Gove signaled a change in direction for the UK and indicated that, after Brexit, the UK would move to ban major neonicotinoids. This angered farming associations but delighted scientists and environmentalists who say that the evidence of harm is strong.

It remains to be seen whether Europe will extend the ban on neonicotinoids, but this EFSA announcement certainly sets the groundwork — and could finally prompt action to protect our beleaguered bees.

Photo Credit: USDA/Flickr

67 comments

Mark Donner
Mark Donner4 months ago

Make sure you go to EPA pubic comment link on this site and make sure that you post a comment on Regulations.gov about the threat of neonicotinoids poisons. Agribusiness poisonous chemicals are one of the greatest threats to the future of life on Earth.

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Paulo R
Paulo R4 months ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo R4 months ago

ty

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Shirley P
Shirley Plowman4 months ago

Wake up, America!!!! We must fight back!!! NO corruption has the right to destroy how our foods grow, with nature.

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara4 months ago

ok

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara4 months ago

helpful

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara4 months ago

th

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Rosslyn O
Rosslyn O4 months ago

M s and Mark D: I would like to give you 10 stars for your comment! Just so true and it is terrifying that they are getting away with this for so many years. Even in Australia Round-up and similar products are widely used even though they have bee petitioned and TV articles and health warnings? They just turn a blind eye and ignore. PS those who are not receiving stars I have been sending quite often to you.

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M s
M s4 months ago

we already knew this information yet the greedy cruel farmers continue to spread poison all over the land,onto our food,into our water Monsanto should be heavily punished as they knew this toxins dangers long ago Monsanto should be banned and shut down Take bayer with it The usda knew about Neonicotinoid Pesticides years ago and did nothing because they are bribed and look the other way

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Glennis W
Glennis W4 months ago

Very informative Thank you for caring and sharing

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