Neonicotinoids are a class of chemical derived from a naturally occurring plant compound; nicotine that has insecticidal properties. Five neonicotinoids compounds are approved for use as pesticides in the EU. Of these clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam are of similar acute toxicity to bees. Acetamiprid and thiacloprid are far less acutely toxic as they have a different chemical structure. Therefore concerns about the effect of neonicotinoids on bees have focused on the first three compounds.
Studies in laboratories have shown that neonicotinoids in question are harmful to bees but these effects have not been demonstrated in nature or open field studies. This has lead to the difference in scientific opinions and hence differences between EU member states. This meant that the meetings of member states could not reach a majority either in favour or against the ban and so in this case it is up to the European Commission to decide how to proceed.
The European Commission Position
The European Commission have yet to publish the draft legislation they will use to enact this ban and so currently the only information we have is from the commissions press release and the report of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report on neonicotinoids.
The European Commission will in the coming weeks adopt a proposal to restrict the use of 3 pesticides belonging to the neonicotinoid family (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam) for a period of 2 years. The Commission’s action is a response to the EFSA scientific report, see below.
The main elements of the Commission’s proposal to Member States:
- The proposal restricts the use of 3 neonicotinoids (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam) for seed treatment, soil application (granules) and foliar treatment on bee attractive plants and cereals.
- In addition, the remaining authorised uses are available only to professionals.
- Exceptions will be limited to the possibility to treat bee-attractive crops in greenhouses, in open-air fields only after flowering.
- The restrictions will apply from 1 December 2013.
- As soon as new information is available, and at the latest within 2 years, the Commission will review the conditions of approval of the 3 neonicotinoids to take into account relevant scientific and technical developments.
EFSA scientists identified a number of risks posed to bees by three neonicotinoid insecticides. The Authority was asked by the European Commission to assess the risks associated with the use of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam as seed treatment or as granules, with particular regard to: their acute and chronic effects on bee colony survival and development; their effects on bee larvae and bee behaviour; and the risks posed by sub-lethal doses of the three substances. In some cases EFSA was unable to finalise the assessments due to shortcomings in the available data.
The risk assessments focused on three main routes of exposure: exposure from residues in nectar and pollen in the flowers of treated plants; exposure from dust produced during the sowing of treated seeds or application of granules; and exposure from residues in guttation fluid produced by treated plants.
Where the risk assessments could be completed, EFSA, in cooperation with scientific experts from EU Member States, concluded the following for all three substances:
- Exposure from pollen and nectar. Only uses on crops not attractive to honey bees were considered acceptable.
- Exposure from dust. A risk to honey bees was indicated or could not be excluded, with some exceptions, such as use on sugar beet and crops planted in glasshouses, and for the use of some granules.
- Exposure from guttation. The only risk assessment that could be completed was for maize treated with thiamethoxam. In this case, field studies show an acute effect on honey bees exposed to the substance through guttation fluid.
Use within Finlays Horticulture & Suppliers and impact of the ban
Nenicotinoid are systemic insecticides which are used in both flowers and vegetables to control thrips, white flies, aphids and beetles. They are especially effective as they can be dosed through drip lines, avoiding the need for spraying and hence are complimentary with our IPM programme. In addition they are used as seed dressings to target soil based pests.
Clothianidin is not widely used in our supply chain but imidacloprid and thiametoxam are, replacing these actives and maintaining effective pest control will not be easy. Thiacloprid and acetamiprid are also used.
A ban in the EU will obviously affect our European growers, mainly Dutch flower production where the banned pesticides are used. However we await the draft legislation to see glass house grown crops will be exempt.
Outside of the EU the use of these compounds will still be legal however our ability to use them will depend on our customers’ reaction and our own position.
So far Waitrose have asked suppliers to avoid the use of these compounds. M&S are considering their position but are concerned that eliminating the banned compounds will mean suppliers have to move back to using old insecticide chemistry and how this would be a retrograde step. Sainsbury and Tesco have yet to comment.
- Carry out residue testing to fully understand the levels of neonicotinoids in our crops at various life stages allowing us to take a considered view as to the risk to bees in our crops and hence the appropriate course of action for Finlays Horticulture and our suppliers.
- Carry out trials to investigate the impact on quality and yield on our crops, the impact on our IPM programme and the amount and toxicity of the chemicals we will have to use without the banned substances.
- Actively engage with our customers and the agrichemical companies to fully understand their position and plans on this subject.
- Commission a bio diversity study on Kingfisher farm to ascertain the current insect population on the farm.
Lines to take
It is too early for us to take o a proactive position on this subject and so we should use the following only in response to enquiries.
- Finlays understand the concerns about bee health and as a horticultural company understand the importance of healthy pollinators to our business.
- We also recognise the debate in the scientific community and hence the uncertainty around the actual risk to bees caused by neonicotinoids. We believe that decisions should always be based on good science and regret that we and others do not have conclusive scientific evidence on this subject as yet.
- We are conducting trails on our farms to understand the level of neonicotinoids in our crops and hence the potential risk to bees posed by these residues in our growing systems.
- We await the actual EU Commission proposal so we can fully understand the impact on our business.