Neonicotinoid Ban

European commission bans three key neonicotinoids

On Friday, April 27 2018 a majority of 16 EU member states (including the UK) supported the European Commission’s proposal of a complete ban on the outdoor use of three neonicotinoid systemic pesticides. Importantly for us the UK government has undertaken to maintain the ban after we leave the EU.

This is a long overdue victory for all those scientists, environmental organisations and protest groups who have been campaigning for so long to achieve this ban and a victory for the pollinating insects who have suffered lasting damage from the effects of these toxic chemicals. Bees pollinate 84% of EU crops and 4000 vegetable varieties. Honeybee mortality rate has reached 80% in some regions of the EU. Politicians have finally been persuaded that the survival of the pollinators is threatened by continued use of these pesticides.

The partial ban on clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam introduced in 2013 has been extended to a complete ban on all outdoor uses (in the field) but they are still permitted under strict conditions in permanent greenhouses. Unfortunately water can leach from the greenhouses into the surrounding soil and watercourses and this could be a source of contamination for pollinating insects.

The Commission considers that “there is no risk to bees for all uses where the plants are treated in a permanent greenhouse and remain there during the whole lifecycle”. [Greenpeace]

Commercial buff-tailed bumblebee colonies are used to pollinate crops such as tomatoes and peppers in greenhouses but they are contained inside permanently. And growing plants could not be transplanted outdoors.

The (near total) ban should come into force by the end of 2018.

There are other neonicotinoids which are still approved for use in the EU. Acetamiprid has not been cited as dangerous to bees and is approved for use on the foliage of ornamental plants only (i.e. not crops) The EU has recently extended the approval of this pesticide until Feb 2033. One other neonicotinoid is Thiacloprid which is a “candidate for substitution” which is EU speak for “needs to be replaced by something less nasty” because it has “endocrine disrupting properties” (i.e. can mess up your hormones). The approval for this neonicotinoid ran out on 4 April this year and it’s currently under review. Public consultation has been launched by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) so hopefully this could soon be another candidate for a ban.

The French government has gone further than the EU and will ban all 5 of these neonicotinoids from September 1st this year and may also include Sulfoxaflor and Flupyradifurone which are also classed as neonicotinoids by scientists.[Gioro et al 2017].

There are some other older pesticides such as Cypermethrin and Chlorpyrifos still lurking in the wings and the worry is that farmers will reach for those when the ban comes into effect. Professor Dave Goulson from Sussex University is concerned that farmers will simply replace the banned pesticides with these equally toxic chemicals. He advocates a move to much more sustainable farming methods.

Bayer and Syngenta are already making a fuss about the ban, saying farmers won’t be able to protect their crops from pests. And, predictably the NFU (National Farmers’ Union) does not support the ban although DEFRA says it will support farmers to cope with the effects of the banning of these pesticides.

Sue Harrison
April 30th 2018

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