Farming News - EU report: evidence neonicotinoids are threatening wild crop pollinators

EU report: evidence neonicotinoids are threatening wild crop pollinators

An EU-commissioned report into neonicotinoid pesticides has revealed that the world’s most widely-used class of insecticide may have “Severe effects on a range of [non-target] organisms” including moths, butterflies, wild bees and birds.

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13 EASAC experts were tasked with reviewing the most up-to-date science on neonicotinoids and their effects after the EU Commission introduced a two-year partial ban on three widely used neonicotinoid insecticides in 2013. The partial ban will be reviewed later this year.

EASAC concluded that, “A focus on honey bees has distorted the debate around neonicotinoids but there is more and more evidence that [their] widespread use… has severe effects on a range of organisms that provide ecosystem services like pollination and natural pest control, as well as on biodiversity.”

The report’s authors said that, whilst the attentions of the public and policy makers have been focused on neonicotinoids’ potential effects on honeybees - managed commercial insects, whose numbers are easily assessed - the effects on wild pollinators and life at other levels of the ecosystem are harder to determine. These include species that provide natural pest control and underpin soil productivity.

EASAC researchers suggested that there is "an emerging pollination deficit,” as more crop plants require or stand to benefit from pollination.

The experts also noted that some research has questioned the benefits of routine use of neonicotinoid seed dressings and claimed that "In some cases, neonicotinoid use has even made pest problems worse by eliminating insects which provided natural pest control."

Corporations and governments opposing the EU restrictions on three neonicotinoids (including the UK government) have claimed that these measures are the result of an over-cautious interpretation of the 'precautionary principle', that they risk costing farmers billions and could threaten food production in EU states.

The EASAC authors also noted that wild insect “Pollinators have generally declined across Europe as honey bee colony numbers have fluctuated” and added, “Protecting honey bees is not enough to ensure sustainable agriculture.” They said that there is a huge benefit in protecting species that provide natural pollination and pest control.

EASAC suggested that “All pesticides involve a balancing act between the desired effect on food production and the inevitable risk of collateral damage to non-target species and the environment,” however, Researchers questioned whether the benefits of these products outweigh the costs, stating that “In the case of the neonicotinoids, the increase in scientific knowledge over the last two years suggests that the current balance requires reassessment.”

Speaking to news agency Reuters on Wednesday, Jean-Charles Bocquet of the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), which represents pesticide firms, said the EASAC review gave undue weight to laboratory studies over the findings of field trials.

Last month, the reevaluation of a highly controversial field-based study of neonicotinoids’ impacts on bees commissioned by the UK government reached the opposite conclusion to government research agency FERA, who found “no clear consistent relationships” between exposure to neonicotinoids and adverse effects on the 60 bee colonies they studied. The reevaluation revealed statistically significant negative impacts on bee colonies.

The EASAC report can be read in full here