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FAQ on neonicotinoids: harmful insecticides for bees.


FAQ on neonicotinoids: harmful insecticides for bees.

Discussion from June to July 2013.

Good morning everyone. My name is Carolina Cardoso. I am working at the European Beekeeping Coordination (EBC): http://www.bee-life.eu/ as communication coordinator. The EBC is a technical group formed by professionals of the beekeeping sector from different countries of the European Union. It gathers beekeeper associations in Europe and its aim is to study the impact on bees' health of environmental threats such as pesticides and to provide expertise on various dossiers regarding the provision of an optimal environment for bees and pollinators.Following the partial ban in the European Union on the use of 3 neonicotinoid pesticides, the EBC has been asked by the TECA team to provide information on the neonicotinoid pesticides and to moderate a discussion on the topic. The aim is to better understand the situation and what it means for beekeepers around the world. Barbara Herren, Coordinator of the international initiative on pollinators at FAO and myself will be trying to do so.

Purpose of the discussion

Neonicotinoids insecticides have been recently in the frontline of many discussions. However, beekeepers have been highlighting the risks of these pesticides for more than 10 years, and only now their claims start to be officially acknowledged at EU level. After a review of three neonicotinoids - clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid - Europe’s food safety watchdog (EFSA) confirmed that these three substances pose a high risk to bees. On 29 April 2013 the EU Commission and a majority of Member States voted for a partial ban of these molecules for a two-year period starting from 1 December 2013 onwards. The restriction was adopted and published in the EU Official Journal on 24 May 2013 (1) (2).

In this discussion, we would like to share with you the background of the ban and key elements that made the ban a reality in Europe. We would also like to explain to you the effects of neonicotinoids on bees and the environment, and present possible farming practices without the use of neonicotinoids. We will also look at how pesticides are evaluated and placed on the market in the EU specifically and propose and discuss about sustainable and pollinator friendly farming alternatives.

In this discussion, we will tackle the following questions.

We will elaborate the questions one by one and after each question, leave some time for you to comment.  Feel free to add any questions and comments on the forum: your testimonies are all welcome about the decline of bees vitality, experience of working without neonicotinoids, scientific experiments, practical experiences, citizen actions, positive collaboration with farmers and beekeepers, etc.

1.    What are neonicotinoids? On which crops are they used? What are some of the commercial names of pesticides available on the market that contain neonicotinoids? Why are they dangerous for bees?

2.    Why are neonicotinoids a threat to ecological health? What do they do to bees?

3.    Which main steps contributed to the partial ban decided on 29 April 2013?

4.    What does the ban mean and when will it enter into force and until when?  Does it mean that nobody in Europe can use pesticides containing the 3 banned active substances?  

5.    How will farmers be able to protect their crops now from harmful pest ?  Will the ban lead to reduced yields and food availability in Europe ?

6.    Role of European Citizens and NGOs in getting the ban approved (petitions, letters written by citizens to Ministers, etc.).

7.    What alternatives are available for farmers?  

8.    Are these pesticides only used in Europe or also in other parts of the world? Do they also harm bees in those parts of the world ?

9.    How to ensure a better future and decrease the use of bee harming pesticides in our environment?

10.  Other related links

11.  …

This discussion will be facilitated and supported for a month (from 29 May to 1 July 2013). At the end of this period, we will summarize the key points shared and discussed in a summary note.


Dear all, here are my comments on the third question. Greetings, Carolina.  

Neonicotinoids were first placed in the EU market in the beginning of the 1990s. Claims of beekeepers regarding bee problems started shortly afterwards, around 1994 in France.You will find below some important steps from 2009 to 2013 that contributed to the partial ban of neonic insecticides, adopted in 2013.

In 2009, a new legal framework on the placing of plant protection products on the market came in place Regulation (EC) 1107/2009. The paragraph below is important:

« An active substance, safener or synergist shall be approved only if it is established following an appropriate risk assessment on the basis of Community or internationally agreed test guidelines, that the use under the proposed conditions of use of plant protection products containing this active substance, safener or synergist:

—  will result in a negligible exposure of honeybees, or

—  has no unacceptable acute or chronic effects on colony survival and development, taking into account effects on honeybee larvae and honeybee behavior. (Reg. (EC) 1107/2009 – Annex II, 3.8.3).

In 2010, following the large colony losses occurred following the sowing of coated seeds with neonicotinoids and fipronil, an insecticide of another family but equally toxic, the Commission published a directive that included specific prescriptions for the molecules: imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam and fipronil. These prescriptions included monitoring the exposure of bees to these substances, better labeling and dust reduction. Unfortunately, to date only two member states have carried out such a monitoring.

The legal principles defined by Regulation (EC) 1107/2009 are translated into specific data requirements that need to be included into the dossiers that phyto-pharmaceutical industries present for the authorization of new pesticide molecules: tests on acute toxicity, chronic toxicity, larvae toxicity, sublethal effects (behavioral, morphological, etc), etc. 

A methodology for risk assessment of pesticides on bees and for the achievement of each of the data above mentioned have lately been reviewed by the EFSA. This institution published in 2012 a scientific opinion which already included recommendations for risk assessment and improved testing methodologies. Specific methodological guidelines should be published soon, by summer 2013.

The concern about the impact of neonicotinoids on pollinators raised because of the increase of scientific publications since 2000 showing deleterious effects. In 2012, two main studies were published in Science: 1, 2.  EFSA was thus requested by the Commission to deliver an opinion on these 2 publications (see report: here), and to review neonicotinoids risk assessment dossiers. These last reports were published in january 2013 (see below).  In 2012 as well, a note to the EU Parliament was published explaining the necessity of applying the precautionary principle regarding neonicotinoids. 

In 2013, the EFSA comes out with the review and confirms officially that clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid pose a risk to bees. EFSA has identified risks to bees from exposure to contaminated nectar, pollen and dust from sowing neonicotinoid-treated-seeds, and emphasized that there are information gaps concerning several points in the neonicotinoids risk assessment.

In a situation of such uncertainty, the European law must be applied: Recital (8) of Regulation (EC) 1107/2009 lauds:“[...] The precautionary principle should be applied and this Regulation should ensure that industry demonstrates that substances or products produced or placed on the market do not have any harmful effect on human or animal health or any unacceptable effects on the environment.”And/or Article 21, paragraph 3 lauds: « Where the Commission concludes that the approval criteria provided (…) are no longer satisfied, or the further information required (…) has not been provided, a Regulation to withdraw or amend the approval shall be adopted (…) ».

For this reason, the Commission proposed EU member states a series of measures including the partial and temporary suspension of certain applications of these three molecules. On 29 of April 2013, the support of a simple majority of Member States enabled the EU Commission to enforce a partial ban of the 3 molecules. The restriction was adopted and published in the EU Official Journal on 24 May 2013 (1) (2).

Dear all, see below my comments on two more questions! Feel free to add your comments. 

Best regards, Carolina. 

What does the ban mean, when will it enter into force and until when?  Does it mean that nobody in Europe can use pesticides containing the 3 banned active substances? 

From 1 December 2013 onwards the application of three neonicotinoids - imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin – will be prohibited throughout Europe for a two-year period. Seed, soil and foliar treatment on crops attractive to bees are concerned. However, neonicotinoids treatments will still be allowed for treating crops that are not attractive to bees such as winter cereals, sugar beet, in greenhouses, and for seed production. Spray can still be used after flowering. Their use by non-professionals, e.g. private gardening, is completely banned.

For the two year period when the ban is applicable, producers of these substance will need to provide risk assessments on the exposure of bees to these 3 neonicotinoids through pollen, nectar, honeydew and guttation water.

At the end of the 2 year ban period and further study outcomes, the conditions of approval of the 3 neonicotinoids on the European market again will be reviewed. 

See the press release of DG SANCO: here




How will farmers be able to protect their crops now from harmful pest ?  Will the ban lead to reduced yields and food availability in Europe ?

The producers of the substances claim that the ban would result in bad harvests and unemployment. However, countries such France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia work already without neonicotinoids for some crops and suffered no such losses as a consequence.

See two documents written by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and Pan Europe that highlighted strategies of the industry to keep their products on the market.

On question 7, I will post comments on how to farm without neonicotinoids, and decrease the dependence on pesticides. 


Dear all, one more comment below on the huge role of citizens, in supporting the neonic ban in the EU. Have a nice week, best regards, Carolina. 

Role of European Citizens and NGOs in getting the ban approved (petitions, letters written by citizens to Ministers, etc.).

NGOs and million of European citizens have played a major role in making the ban possible. In the UK for example, large garden centre chains have recently stopped selling pesticide products based on neonicotinoids, and supermarkets have stopped buying products produced using neonicotinoids. Petitions have been signed and directly sent to ministers and representatives in Brussels to ask them for the ban. 

- http://www.avaaz.org/en/hours_to_save_the_bees/- http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/ban-the-pesticides-that-are-harming-our-bees#- http://www.change.org/bienen- http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/save-the-bees-ban-neonicotinoids-pesticides- http://www.goodfoodgoodfarming.eu/eventsactions/bee-action.html- …

These initiatives are a good example of how citizens can participate in decision making and pressure their representatives. 

Dear all, here is one more comment on the huge role of citizen in supporting the ban.  Have a nice week !

Best regard, Carolina. 


Role of European Citizens and NGOs in getting the ban approved (petitions, letters written by citizens to Ministers, etc.).

NGOs and million of European citizens have played a major role in making the ban possible. In the UK for example, large garden centre chains have recently stopped selling pesticide products based on neonicotinoids, and supermarkets have stopped buying products produced using neonicotinoids. Petitions have been signed and directly sent to ministers and representatives in Brussels to ask them for the ban. 

- http://www.avaaz.org/en/hours_to_save_the_bees/

- http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/ban-the-pesticides-that-are-harming-our-bees

- http://www.change.org/bienen

- http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/save-the-bees-ban-neonicotinoids-pesticides

- http://www.goodfoodgoodfarming.eu/eventsactions/bee-action.html 

These initiatives are a good example of how citizens can participate in decision making and pressure their representatives. 


Dear all, see below some comments on alternatives. If you have any projects/initiatives on pollinator friendly farming - and in particular farming limiting the use of pesticides - feel free to share. Best regard, thanks! Carolina. 

What alternatives are available for farmers?  

Neonicotinoid use is often unjustified. These insecticides are commonly used as a preventive treatment. This means that neonicotinoids often fight against insects that are not present. Moreover, where pests are present, they often have a limited negative impact on crop production and on the economic output for farmers (e.g. maize) (Furlan et al, 2007, Stokstad, 2013)

Simple agronomic techniques can help farmers to avoid and reduce neonicotinoid use, with the same level of production. Crop rotation, cultivation of different plant varieties, and stimulation of beneficial insects have demonstrated to be successful alternatives 1 . In case these farming practices cannot be established on the farm or the use of pesticides is justified, then biological controls (provision of natural predators) could be a solution.

See some documentation about alternatives here

When I was in Italy in 2011 I learned Neonicotinoids was being used to kill a parasite in the soil. However, this parasite was supposedly in only 10% of the farmlands. The farmers are trusting without testing their soil.

The Clothianidine in the Neonicotinoids is the most lethal for bees. When the bees gather the pollen, they store it in the beebread to feed the young during winter and spring hatchings. Clothianidine affects the bees learning abilities; they go out to harvest but forget how to get back. It also affects the queen's nervous system. I watched a queen walk across the honeycomb for 3 months without laying a thing, acting nervous and drunk. I let her go that long for research purposes.

Glyphosate in Roundup is also killing pollinators, plants, soil, and us. You can read more on the Glyphosate by clicking here. This is only part of a very large picture. Glyphosate is also associated with higher incidences of modern diseases such as Alzheimer, autism, etc

BEe loved,

Lady Spirit Moon, NC, MH, Certified Beekeeper, and
Ambassador for the Center for Honeybee Research
Natural Beekeeper & Educator
443 West Rd.
Hot Springs, NC, 28743, USA


Thanks a lot for sharing this!!Indeed, sometimes pesticide use is unjustified. See for example the presentation of Prof. Furlan from Italy that shows the non-sense of using neonicotinoids in a preventive way, as this is the case currently.

Farmers often use pesticides because they listen to commercial advisers of the companies selling their products. Currently, technical advices for a new type of sustainable farming are a minority. In Belgium, where I live, I know for example the Cebio. This is a technical centre for organic farming, which I think is a positive example of an initiative to be promoted. Having more and more centre like this one, which give advice following agro-ecological principles might help to develop sustainable farming.

Indeed, this ban should be a very first step. Because, not only neonic but other pesticides are harmful for nature and human beings. The pollinator crisis is global and pesticides are used worldwide massively. This is the whole farming system that need to be reviewed and rebuild, by adopting practices that take into account natural mechanisms.

You mention the effects of pesticides on human health, it makes me remember that neonic residues can also be found in our food. See some examples in: - Japan where the residues in food are extremely high. This article also shows that neonic have effects on human health in Japan (see p 9 - 11).- France  where a team of scientists analysed 109 pieces of vegetables for neonic residues.

For effects of glyphosate on human health in Argentina, I suggest also the testimony of Sofia Gatica and the Mothers of Ituzaingó.



Thanks to Carolina and TECA for facilitating this timely discussion. 

For this audience, we don’t need to repeat how important bees are as pollinators, and how much they contribute to our agricultural production.  But it is worthwhile to reflect that we are only now starting to appreciate this.  It is only recently that pollination has been recognized as an essential element of agronomy, as we begin to fear that we are losing the services they have provided essentially for free. 

Thus, we are just starting to work out what practices we should implement to support and encourage pollinators to remain in farming landscapes and visit our farms.  FAO has been coordinating a global project on pollination in seven countries- Brazil, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan and South Africa that works with farming communities to help them develop pollination management plans. 

Through farmer field schools launched by the project, farmers can share their traditional pollination solutions, blend them with the science-based practices, and observe the results throughout the growing season.  FAO is documenting the successful pollinator-friendly practices, and compiling a set of tools and best management practices that can be applied to pollinator conservation efforts worldwide.

While many of our final recommendations are still being developed, we have some profiles of best practices and indication of pollinator friendly practices in publications on our website (look for documents): “Initial Survey of Good Pollination Practices” and  "Handbook for Participatory Socioeconomic Evaluation of Pollinator-friendly Practices”.  In the Handbook, our partners have provided provisional lists of good practices such as (keeping in mind these are practices for all pollinators, not just honeybees):

Provide forage for pollinators

  1. Growing mixed crop types over a growing season to reduce or eliminate dearth period with no crops in flower.
  2. Growing mixed crop types within a field to attract pollinators.
  3. Growing mixed of crop varieties to extend the foraging period.
  4. Growing patches of non-crop vegetation, flower-rich field margins, buffer zones and permanent hedgerows.
  5. Shade tree cultivation.
  6. At landscape scale conservation of natural and semi-natural habitat providing pollen sources for pollinators.

Reduce use of chemicals

  1. Selective weeding to conserve weeds good for pollinators
  2. Use of less toxic pesticides and better application procedures

Managing for bee nest sites

  1. No till agriculture
  2. Leave dead trees and branches standing
  3. Leave patches of bare ground undisturbed
  4. Avoidance of flood irrigation

We can share some examples of what our farming communities have discovered by learning about pollinators and carrying out their own research to identify measures that support them:

Apple growers in India traditionally hung flower bouquets in their apple trees to simplify the cross pollination essential for apples to produce fruit. But FAO and its national partners discovered that by careful placement, the bouquets also enticed small black flies – not just bees – to pollinate their trees if the trees flowered when it was too cold for bees. Until then, the farmers had considered the flies to be pests and sprayed to control them.

Farmers in Ghana now plant cassava rows around their chili pepper fields to increase pollination. Bees do not like chili peppers, but FAO found that bees will come to the fields for the nectar-rich cassava flowers and while there, will also pollinate the chilies. 

Brazil’s regulation that farmers must keep a portion of their farmland in its natural forested state in order to slow tropical deforestation takes land out of production.  But FAO and its national partners have shown farmers that the forest provides habitat to pollinators that, in turn, increase the production of crops, such as canola. The increase in productivity has been so impressive that private sector processors of canola seeds are now working with the FAO project personnel to train their technicians and canola farmers in pollination.

Of course reducing pesticides, and avoiding pesticides that are highly toxic to pollinators, is a critically important measure.  We have worked with scientists in the Netherlands, Brazil and Kenya to develop a means of assessing the risk of pesticides with a particular crop; this too is a document on the website: “Aspects Determining the Risk of Pesticides to Wild Bees”.

We hope this information be of use to many people, and to conserving and promoting our pollinators!




Dear Barbara,Thank you very much for these concrete examples! This clearly shows the link and synergies between farming and beekeeping, and the role of pollination. It shows that knowledge of natural mechanisms and life cycle are a key for the development of sustainable farming.

Thank you also for these handbooks on pollinator friendly practices. It is important that all these practices are applied all together with coeherence: provide forage, reduce chemicals use and managing nest sites – and that the information arrives in the hands of the different stakeholders.