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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 Barbara, Thanks a lot for sharing this useful knowledge. In a meeting of PAFPI trained beekeepers in Delta State Nigeria, the issue of providing forage for our bees was a major concern. This information, especially with the examples in India and Ghana will be very useful for our beekeepers. Thanks again to Barbara, and to Carolina for facilitating this discussion. My warm greetings to all. Kejekpo

Dear Kejekpo, Thanks for sharing this! Greetings, Carolina.


Dear all, see below my comments on the last two questions of the discussion on neonic. By the end of the discussion, I will try to sumerize and post the key points that have been mentionned. Best and thanks, Carolina. 

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 ?

Neonicotinoids are used all over the world and in huge quantities. Their use has increased massivelly in the last 10 years. More and more scientific publications shows their negative effects on bees and ecosystems. 

Bees and other pollinators are declining globally, in particular in North America, Europe, some part of China, South America and North Africa. In the EU, several monitoring initiatives exist. At the moment, they focus on bee mortality (effect) and pathologies (one of the causes of mortality). Some examples of these initiatives are: Coloss, Bee Doc, STEP.

Attached files: 

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

The ban is an opportunity to show that environmental friendly farming (including farming without neonicotinoids) is possible.

• A main challenge will be to avoid replacing neonicotinoids by others equally toxic insecticides. Instead, there is a need to re-think the current production system and avoid using any chemicals in the fields in case there is no pest present. Plant health should evolve more in the direction of pest management than towards pest eradication.

• Another major challenge is to ensure coherent political actions:  adequate risk assessment methodologies which should be kept up-to-date, promotion of sustainable farming, reduction of the use of highly toxic pesticides to the minimum, always prioritizing other types of pest management first.

• It would be wise from the EU and national institutions responsible for doing risk assessments of chemicals to contact independent experts in different fields and demand their collaboration in the evaluation tasks. Likewise, the support of organisations that raise in a constructive way awareness among the public and the EU institution about the gaps or incoherences in those authorization dossiers can as well lead to improvements in the system.

• Independent technical training of farmers is essential. Synergies between soil, plant and animal should be placed at the heart of training programmes for farmers, agro-technicians, agronomists, veterinarians and researchers.

• Promote exchanges between researchers, farmers and businesses implementing sustainable agricultural initiatives in order to demonstrate the success of farming systems without neonicotinoids, profitable and productive cropping systems would be also a solution. 

Dear Carolina,

Thank you very much for all the interesting information you provided !  I have now a better idea of how neonicotinoids affect our bees and other pollinators and of alternative ways of farming using less or no pesticides.

I do hope that there will be more initiatives in the future to raise the awareness of the public on the effects of pesticides and their excessive use on nature and human health. We are all consumers of the crops that were produced using the neonics, and we should all be able to make an informed decision when we buy our food (how was my food produced, what is its cost for the environment, for my health ?).   We all have the power to bring about change !  I am sure that if we, the consumers, ask for food that is safe for us and the environment, the market will follow. 




Dear Charlotte, Dear all,Thank you very much to you for giving the European Beekeeping Coordination, the opportunity to have this discussion on the TECA forum !

I will try to summerise some key points that have been mentionned, and post it a bit late by end of July on the forum.  Readers of this discussion are still welcome to post their comments or testimonials.



Je trouve cette discussion à propos des néonicotinoïdes particilièrement intéressante mais elle laisse les apiculteurs perplexes.

Depuis plusieurs années les apiculteurs français, et notamment de Midi-Pyrénées, déplorent un taux de mortalité énormément élevé dans leur cheptel apicole.

Et cette année 2013 n'a pas failli à la règle puisqu'à la sortie de l'hiver ils ont eu des pertes situées entre 20% et 50%. La raison invoquée est l'intoxication par les traitements de cultures de type néonicotinoïde. Les mortalités les plus importantes sont constatées chez les apiculteurs ayant transhumé sur des cultures comme le tournsesol.

La Communquté Européenne a bien interdit l'utilisation de trois molécules de type néonicotinoïde mais seulement pour 2 ans et que pour certaines cutlures. Mais est-ce bien suffisant ? De qui se moque t-on ?

Puisque l'on sait que la rémanence de ces molécules dans le sol est de plusieurs années. Elles vont se retrouver dans des fleurs de colza, tournesol...et encore intoxiquer les abeilles !

Les apiculteurs sont partagés entre colère, exaspération et incompréhension face à l'inertie des pouvoirs publics à prendre des décisions décisives pour éviter l'hécatombe de leurs colonies. Ils se demandent s'il existe une instance, nationale ou européenne, capable de leur venir en aide !


Dear Marc,

Thank you very much for your comment!

Fully agree with you. 

The Commission’s decision to suspend partially the use of 3 neonicotinoids for a 2 years period, does not address the overall bee health status. It only reduces the exposure of bees to neonicotinoids, for 2 years, aiming to decrease the risks they pose. The partial ban will decrease the emission of neonicotinoids in the environment, but for sure a large quantity of these products still persist in the environment (via the products that have been used in the past) and continues to be released into the environment  (via the products that can still be used, as on cereals or after flowering). 

To achieve an overall improvement of bee health and ecosystem health, measures taken should be broader, such as a comprehensive review of the agricultural model (avoid the use of toxic and large spectrum pesticides, use pesticides only when necessary, promote rotation and crop diversity, place the knowledge of nature at the center of agriculture ...).

However, the partial ban of neonic is a first victory. Especially against the powerful lobbies of the pesticide industry. It is indeed disappointing to see political decisions being taken so slowly... Unfortunately, there is a lot of money at stake. In 2008, the pesticide market in the world represented 6,330 billion euros (25% were neonicotinoids). The lobbies are really huge (meetings, emails, events, campaign, conducted in a very subtle way). Public institutions also listen to their arguments, which makes changes even more difficult.

Recently, the report 'Late lessons from early warnings: Science, precaution, innovation' was published by the European Environment Agency. This report demonstrates, through several case studies, the costs of not applying the precautionary principle in cases of scientific uncertainty. The report presents the case of Gaucho ® in France. It explains how French beekeepers were able to  obtain the ban of Gaucho ® on sunflower and on corn. The ban on corn was much more difficult, especially because the economic stakes of corn were larger. (see the two documents attached, below).

That is why, during the two-year ban at EU level, beekeeping associations, and environmental organisations promoting sustainable farming practices, must continue to inform the public and take public action. Discussions with the European Commission must continue. We need to continue drawing the attention on the dangers of these products and the nonsense of preventive use of pesticides, but also on other issue such as GMOs and the need to improve the agricultural system as a whole ... The actions to be taken can be demonstrations, events, sharing information and building networks with organisations that aim to achieve better farming in accordance with balanced ecosystems.It is also important to remember that the ban can be extended at the end of the 2 year period should the industry do not succeed in demonstrating their products do not pose any risks for bees.

An encouraging point is the huge citizen’s support from around the world for the cause of beekeepers and bees. And also that more and more scientific studies identify the negative impacts of pesticides on pollinators, ecosystems and human beings as well as the need for a transition to a pollinator-friendly farming. (See for example the article 'Neonicotinoids, bee disorders and the sustainability of pollinator services - summary here).

If pigs or cattle farmers in Europe lost 20% to 50% of their animals annually - as is the case for beekeepers - it would be a calamity and funds would probably be released to determine the causes of this loss, to change that and to compensation farmers losses. It is important to emphasize that beekeepers have been facing this situation for over 10 years, and this is not sustainable, socio-economically (drop in honey production, costs to replace colonies,...) and environmentally (our ecosystem sends signals of distress).

Bees are not only a pillar of biodiversity and food production, they also alert us about the imbalance and the poor health of our current ecosystems; and beekeepers are definitely bee’s spokesmen. 

Best regards,


Dear readers,

This discussion will be kept open until the end of July for comments and/or testimonials from the readers.

Please feel free to comment on any of the topics discussed above or share your experiences with alternative farming practices.   

Thank you.


Its very interesting,and i hope when the chemicals are stopped there they are also stopped even here in Africa particulary in Zambia where these chemicals are used anyhow and anywhere which is very unfortunate.