Neonicotinoid pesticides pose threat to bees, declares EFSA long-awaited risk assessment

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01 Mar 2018 --- The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has just updated its risk assessment on the impact neonicotinoid pesticides can have on bee populations and discovered that most uses do in fact pose a risk to wild bees and honeybees.

The much-awaited EFSA updated assessment examines three neonicotinoids – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – that are currently subject to restrictions in the European Union because of the threat they pose to bees. They have been restricted since 2013 following the results of earlier risk assessments. 

Now, these new conclusions from EFSA update those published almost eight years ago. 

This time the new assessments cover wild bees, bumblebees and solitary bees, as well as honeybees. EFSA’s Pesticides Unit carried out an extensive data collection exercise, including a systematic literature review, to gather all the scientific evidence published since the previous evaluations.

The team also applied the guidance document developed by EFSA specifically for the risk assessment of pesticides and bees.

“The availability of such a substantial amount of data as well as the guidance has enabled us to produce very detailed conclusions,” said Jose Tarazona, Head of EFSA’s Pesticides Unit.

“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.”

EFSA finalized its conclusions following two separate consultations with pesticide experts in the EU member states. The experts have supported the conclusions.

As with the previous assessments, exposure of bees to the substances was assessed via three routes: residues in bee pollen and nectar; dust drift during the sowing/application of the treated seeds; and water consumption.

Calls for a tougher ban
Friends of the Earth Europe is also calling for a tougher ban on the three neonicotinoid pesticides following the update from EFSA. 

"This long-awaited report highlights yet again the huge threat these neonicotinoid pesticides pose to our bees. We have been playing Russian roulette with the future of our bees for far too long,” said FoE Europe bee campaigner Sandra Bell.

“EU member states must now support a tougher ban on all outdoor use of these three bee-harming chemicals – a move that is fully justified by this report."

"Any ban on these damaging pesticides must go hand-in-hand with a fundamental reform of agriculture policy to help farmers work in harmony with nature – not against it. A major shift to agroecology is needed to allow nature to thrive."

What happens next?
EFSA’s conclusions will be shared with risk managers from the European Commission and member states, who will consider potential amendments to the current restrictions on the use of these pesticides.

Member States are due to discuss a European Commission proposal to extend the ban next month.

A study published last October found that three-quarters of world’s honey contains neonicotinoids. High concentrations of neonics have been found in kinds of honey from North America, Asia and Europe, according to the study published in the leading scientific journal Science by an interdisciplinary team from the University of Neuchâtel and the Botanical Garden of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. 

It said that three-quarters of the honey produced throughout the world contain neonicotinoids (neonics). The measured concentrations of neonics are, however, below the maximum authorized levels for human consumption.

By Gaynor Selby

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