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European Commission votes to restrict neonicotinoids

European Commission votes to restrict neonicotinoids - Expert reaction
30 April 2018

The European Commission has voted to ban neonicotinoid pesticides in EU member states. The decision is expected to come into force by the end of 2018, with only closed greenhouses exempt.

The decision follows growing evidence that the insecticides may be linked to declines in pollinator populations, including honeybees.

New Zealand's Environmental Protection Authority has said it would watch the European Commission's decision, but that the rules around the use of neonicotinoids in New Zealand were working to protect pollinators.

The Science Media Centre has asked experts to comment on the ban, please feel free to use these comments in your reporting.
Mark McNeill, scientist, AgResearch, comments:

"The challenge around neonicotinoids is that they are an effective insecticide to control seedling pests in New Zealand such as the Argentine stem weevil, black beetle, springtails, caterpillars and slugs, that can have significant impacts on the establishment of pasture and forage crops. Protection during the seedling stage is critical to the production and persistence of these pastures and crops.

"The neonicotinoids are also less toxic to humans than organophosphate insecticides, and are considered a more environmentally friendly means of crop protection compared to broad-spectrum foliar sprays. This is because they are highly targeted (being buried in the soil with seed) and therefore do not have the same risks of environmental exposure and impact (e.g. through aerial dispersal).

"In addition to reduced weed invasion and improved persistence and yield, the neonicotinoids also allow crops and pastures to be established by direct drilling (where the seed is drilled into unploughed soil), reducing nutrient leaching and carbon emissions.

"While it is early days yet, the withdrawal of neonicotinoids will cause some issues for farmers, as there are no ready alternatives. Irrespective of any future decisions, NZ farmers need to have effective and safe treatments for controlling pests at the seedling stage."

No conflict of interest.
The UK SMC gathered expert reaction to the decision.
Dr Bill Parker, Director of Research, Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), said:
“While this decision is not unexpected given the mounting weight of scientific evidence of the effects of neonics on pollinators, it is nonetheless a serious issue for the agricultural industry as it further restricts the crop protection toolbox that farmers and growers have available to them for controlling key pests.
“Although alternatives do exist, the consequence of this decision is likely to be a greater use of insecticides applied as foliar sprays (spray applied to leaves), particularly on crops such as wheat and sugar beet (the banned neonics were only ever applied as seed treatments, not as sprays). The implication is that some foliar insecticide sprays can have a broader effect on insects present in the crop than seed treatments, though this does heavily depend on the spectrum of activity of individual insecticide products. It is worth pointing out that insecticides (including neonics) accounted for 7% of total pesticide use by area treated in the UK in 2016, with neonics themselves representing 2% of the insecticide treated area.
“AHDB is actively involved in developing Integrated Pest Management programmes for all UK crops with the aim of reducing dependence on plant protection products.”
Prof Nigel Raine, Rebanks Family Chair in Pollinator Conservation, University of Guelph, Canada said:
“Reducing pesticide exposure by removing the use of these three most widely used neonicotinoids (Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam) from outdoor use is a major step towards improving pollinator health in the EU. It represents part of the story to support pollinators – we also need to ensure there are sufficient flowers and nesting sites for these animals that support production of one in three mouthfuls of food we eat.
“The science supporting this decision has been unfolding over a number of years, particularly around important effects on behaviour and reproduction following low level chronic exposure to these insecticides. It has also become increasing clear that different types of bees respond in different ways to similar exposure, and wild/unmanaged populations of pollinators may be more sensitive. Policy makers in other jurisdictions will be paying close attention to these decisions.
“We rely on both farmers and pollinators for the food we eat. Pesticide regulation is a balancing act between unintended consequences of their use for non-target organisms (including pollinators) and giving farmers the tools they need to control crop pests. Disagreements around the extent of impacts of neonicotinoids have underlined the need to properly understand the ramifications of different routes of exposure.”
Prof Ian Toth, Senior Scientist in Cell and Molecular Sciences, and member leading the Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPM) research, The James Hutton Institute, said:
“The use of pesticides has been such an important part of crop production for decades that loss or reduction in the use of such chemicals, including neonicotinoids, will almost certainly affect crop yields and, ultimately, the price of food for consumers. Now more than ever it is so important that we find alternative methods of control through more resistant crops, biocontrol and other integrated pests management approaches.”

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