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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,

As promised, here is a summary of the discussion “FAQ on neonicotinoids: harmful insecticides for bees” which was held on the TECA forum from 29 May to 31 July 2013.

Thank you very much again for your interest in the topic!

In the next years, beekeeping associations, NGOs, and citizens, will have to continue their efforts in following up on the ban of neonicotinoid insecticides, and alerting public authorities of potential incoherence emerging during the implementation of the ban; at EU and National level; and push for a full ban of these molecules in the future.

In fact, it will be important to:

·      Alert public authorities of all the environmental-related threats to bees.

·      Raise awareness on the need to develop pollinator friendly farming models.

Please find detailed summary below.

Best regards,


1.Why to be concerned with the use of neonicotinoids?

Pesticides are one of the main novelties in agriculture that have overwhelmed the synergy between agriculture and bees development. They have changed completely the way to produce food in terms of work and knowledge, but can pose harmful problems and can cause danger to humans and the environment. In 2013, neonicotinoid insecticides, hugely used worldwide, have been officially acknowledged by EU authorities to pose harmful effects on bees. Consequently, a 2-year partial ban on the use of neonicotinoids has been imposed in the EU from December 2013 to December 2015 to allow further analysis of the effects of these pesticides on bee health

Neonicotinoid insecticides present the characteristics below:

·      Broad-spectrum: the pesticide not only affects pests, but a variety of beneficial insects and non-target species (bees, butterflies, birds,…). 

·      Spread in ecosystems: the pesticide can be found in ‘non-target places’, such as water, air, soil and the whole food chain. 

·      Persistent: pesticide residues can remain in soil for years. 

·      Huge toxicity: tiny doses of the pesticides can have a negative effect on living organisms. Long-term (i.e. chronic) exposure of bees to neonicotinoids can cause sub-lethal (behavior or physiological changes) or lethal effects for the colony 

·      Effective doses not easily detectable: the pesticide is so toxic that it affects living organisms at tiny doses that could not be detected and analyzed until recently. Meaning that the exposure to the product is very difficult to quantify. 

·      Systemic: the pesticide is absorbed by the plant and kills pests that feed on them. Pesticide residues are also found in pollen, nectar and plant excretions, such as guttation water – source of food for bees.  

·      Seed treatment: is a new way to apply pesticides. Seeds are coated with systemic pesticides, which are then absorbed by the plant. The problem is that coated seeds are most of the time used in a preventive way (a priori), even without knowing if insect pests are present. Preventive uses of pesticides are contrary to the directive 2009/128/CE on Sustainable use of pesticides.

2. How pesticide use is regulated in the EU?

Pesticides are chemical formulation made of an active substance and other co-formulants. Active substances are authorised by European Authorities with the assistance of Member States. Then pesticides containing the active substance are authorised by Member States.

Risk assessment, marketing and, use of pesticides are regulated by the EU Regulation 1107/2009. The regulation aims to ensure “high level of protection of human and animal health and the environment” and ensures that pesticides do not have “any harmful effect on animal health”. 

The EU Commission can always request to review the approval of a molecule in light of no longer satisfied criteria or new scientific and technical knowledge (Regulation 1107/2009, Article 21). It was the case with the neonicotinoids risk assessment dossier: they were reviewed recently based on new scientific knowledge on the effect of neonicotinoids on the health of bees.

3. How to protect bees and avoid harmful pesticides to be placed on the market?

What policy makers could do?

Improve continuously the relevant policies and ensure its adequate implementation to protect bees and pollinators.

·      Keeping up to date the implementation of risk assessment tests and data required, referring to pesticides authorizations.

·      Ensuring transparency and independence tests.

o   Pesticide authorisations should be based on unbiased and independent research data, and conflicts of interest should be avoided at all costs between on one hand bee-health researcher and regulator managing the authorisation dossier and, on the other hand pesticide-manufacturers.

o   Transparency: the dossier submitted by the industry should be fully available, in order to develop public participation and control of the tests realized. 

·      Monitoring of the exposure of bees to neonicotinoids.


Promote the implementation of bee-friendly measures in agriculture aiming to stimulate biodiversity in the agricultural landscape.

·      Limit the use of pesticides, as much as possible, starting with the elimination of preventive use of pesticides. This would reduce the exposure of the ecosystem to a great combination of pesticides.

·      Encourage farm management, which will aim to recover the symbiosis between bees and agriculture.


What local/national public authorities could do ?

·      Raise awareness of the role of pollinators.

·      Avoid the use of toxic products to bees and other pollinators.

·      Promote bee-friendly farming.

·      Enforce proper implementation of the EU decision on the neonicotinoids ban.


What citizens/NGOs could do?

·      Avoid the use of harmful products to bees by buying organic food or food that has been produced following sustaible practices.

·       Pay attention to, and share information on pollinator’s and bee’s major role in food production and guaranteeing biodiversity.

·       Advocate for preserving of bees and biodiversity and promote sustainable farming practices.


What farmers can do?

·      Adopt and promote pollinator friendly farming, integrating bees in the farm management and recover the symbiosis between bees and agriculture. Such farming must be knowledge-intensive (knowledge on interaction plant-soil-animal is needed), efficient, fertile, and socially and economically sustainable in the long run.

·      Minimize the use of pesticides, avoid preventive use of pesticides, such as coated seeds thanks to farming practices taking into account animal-plant-soil interaction: crop rotations, stimulation of beneficial insects, restoration of ‘bee-friendly’ landscapes.


Dear all,
There is a worldwide study to be published this summer on systemic pesticides. I am posting the info here because it is a new key assessment in the discussion on neonicotinoids.
The worldwide study shows the global risks of neonicotinoids on bees, but also on a wide range of animals and on our environment. 
You can find more information here: www.tfsp.info/  (the full study will be published this summer).
See also the Bee Life Press Release which welcomes this work: http://bee-life.eu/en/article/73/