Greenpeace: Neonicotinoids pose risks to multiple species

According to Greenpeace, neonicotinoids not only pose risks to honeybees, but threaten other species, [quisnovus / Flickr]

Neonicotinoid pesticides should be considered a serious threat not only to honeybees but also to many other species, according to a scientific review published today (12 January) by Greenpeace.

Following a risk assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) claiming that clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam pose threats to bees, in May 2013, the European Commission decided to introduce a partial ban and restrict the use of the pesticides.

Major study links neonicotinoid pesticides to wild bee declines

Wild bees that forage from oilseed rape crops treated with insecticides known as neonicotinoids are more likely to undergo long-term population declines than bees that forage from other sources, according to the findings of an 18-year study.

A new review, which was led by scientists at the University of Sussex, focused on scientific evidence published the last three years, analysing the impact of neonicotinoids on non-target organisms.

Multidimensional effects

Greenpeace noted that according to the new evidence, neonicotinoids not only pose risks to honeybees but that they have wider environmental implications, and threaten other species, such as bumblebees, butterflies and water insects.

“Neonicotinoids can persist in agricultural soils for several years, leading to chronic contamination and in some instances accumulation over time,” the paper reads, adding that these compounds are not restricted to agricultural crops, but can reach waterways and runoff water with a wider food chain impact.

In addition, the scientists stressed that new data showed increased sensitivity of aquatic organisms toward neonicotinoids.

“Many aquatic insect species are several orders of magnitude more sensitive to these compounds than the traditional model organisms used in regulatory assessments for pesticide use,” the review noted.

Total ban

Referring to the new evidence, Greenpeace is now urging the EU executive to fully ban neonicotinoids.

“How much more damage has to be done before the EU bans these pesticides?” Marco Contiero, the director of agriculture policy at Greenpeace EU, asked.

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“Science clearly shows that neonicotinoids are omnipresent and persistent in the wider environment, not just in agricultural fields,” the Italian activist added.

Biology Professor Dave Goulson commented that in addition to bees, neonicotinoids could plausibly be linked to declines of butterflies, birds, and aquatic insects.

“Given the evidence about such widespread environmental harm it would seem prudent to extend the scope of the current European restriction,” he said.

Major economic impact

Meanwhile, the agri-food industry has expressed concern about the economic impact on EU farming since the European Commission decided to restrict the use of three neonicotinoids.

A study conducted by research consultancy HFFA Research GmbH, commissioned by Bayer and Syngenta, found that the neonicotinoid ban has cost the European oilseed rape farming industry almost €900 million a year.

The study identified a negative yield impact of 4% resulting in 912,000 tonnes of missing harvest; an average of 6.3% of harvest quality losses; and an average of 0.73 additional foliar applications per hectare of cultivated oilseed rape.

The report also noted that the Commission’s move had a global environmental impact.

It notes that since global land productivity will not rise as a direct consequence of the ban, such a production increase requires additional land resources.

“Shifting oilseed rape production outside of the EU is estimated to require an additional 533,000 hectares of land outside Europe, cause 80.2 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, 1.3 billion m³ of additional water consumption, and lead to biodiversity losses related to the conversion of grassland and natural habitats rich in species into arable land.”

Heavy lobbying

The Pesticide Action Network (PAN), a network of NGOs campaigning against pesticides, heated up the debate yesterday (11 January) claiming that the pesticide industry is putting pressure on EU lawmakers to keep their products on the market by providing misleading information.

It noted that the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), the European Seed Association and Copa-Cogeca were having an “intense day of lobbying”.

“Their goal is to flood European Commission staff as well as Members of the European Parliament with false information […] not surprisingly, no publicity was made about the two events and one of them is invite-only,” PAN said in a statement.

Martin Dermine, PAN Europe’s project coordinator on pollinators said, “the EFSA reports on neonics are clear: there is no safe use”.

“We understand the pesticide and seed industry’s efforts to mislead decision-makers. But Copa-Cogeca’s behavior is irresponsible: since 2013, without neonics, farmers’ yields are stable. Neonicotinoids are expensive for farmers and destroy the environment and pollinators our agriculture relies so much upon,” Dermine said.

Contacted by, Copa & Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen commented that due to the ban on neonicotinoid seed treatments “we have seen a 10% decline in the EU oilseeds area since 2013 and an increase in farmers’ costs and a cut in their incomes as no alternative products exist”.

In response to the PAN’s statement, Graeme Taylor, spokesperson for the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), told EURACTIV, “PAN talks about misleading information yet their own press release contains only half truths about a reports that they clearly have not taken the time to read properly”.

He explained that what was clear is that farmers are suffering as a result of the ban on neonicotinoids.

“And it’s not just farmers, but as the report shows, it has also impact on the environment,” he noted, adding that the results of the two reports that PAN refers to are consistent with the findings of Commission’s own joint research centre.

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