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SMC: Neonicotinoid ban in the EU

Neonicotinoid ban in the EU
The European Commission voted late last week to ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides anywhere except a close glasshouse.

The decision is expected to come into force by the end of 2018 and 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.

AgResearch scientist Mark McNeill said the challenge around neonicotinoids was that they were an effective insecticide against seedling pests like the Argentine stem weevil, caterpillars and slugs, which 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."

Because the insecticides are highly targeted, they do not have the same risks of environmental exposure as broad-spectrum foliar sprays, McNeill said.

"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."

University of Otago's Professor Peter Dearden, who is also with the Bio-Protection Research Centre, said neonicotinoids had largely replaced problematic insecticides used in the past like organophosphates and DDT.

"In recent years questions have arisen about the impact of neonicotinoids on pollinating insects, especially bees. A long-term reduction in pollinating insects has occurred, especially in Europe, and even more worrying, studies have shown a similar 70% decline in flying insects in Europe. These declines have been suggested to be due to neonicotinoids."

Prof. Dearden said in New Zealand, neonicotinoids were used on a different set of crops and pasture than in Europe and there were no indications of the long-term declines in bees as seen in Europe.

"We do not, however, have good long-term monitoring projects of insects other than bees in New Zealand, and so have no real idea if we have the declines in insects seen in Europe."

"The neonicotinoid story, as well as that of organophosphates and DDT, may indicate that our approach to insects generally is wrong," he said.

"Insects are key parts of our ecosystems and critical to our continued existence on the planet. Perhaps we should be cherishing them, finding ways to avoid agricultural damage without killing them, and ensuring they are not needlessly killed, as a better way to ensure sustainable agriculture."

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the decision.

Quoted: Radio NZ
"I decided to write the book after so many times saying to my mum that there needs to be a book on cicadas.

“I was learning lots about cicadas and I needed somewhere to put it all."

11-year-old Olly Hills
talking to Our Changing World about his cicada book.

Pacific boxers and dementia
A case study of eight former amateur or professional boxers found seven of the men developed early-onset dementia.

Published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal, the study adds to a growing body of evidence linking high-impact sports like football and boxing conditions such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and dementia.

All eight men were Pasifika, living in South Auckland and had been referred to Middlemore Hospital. Seven were diagnosed with early-onset dementia (before age 65).

Study author Dr Vahid Payman told Radio NZ that he started working at Middlemore in 2013 and was struck by the number of cases coming into the geriatric psychiatry service and memory clinic.

Dr Payman said four of the men's dementia started between the ages of 45 and 55, with the others developing the disease after age 55. "These were people in the prime of life, with families, who were deteriorating quite rapidly in their middle age."

"I don't want to sound alarmist in raising this issue, but certainly I was struck by this cluster of Pacific boxers that we had in South Auckland."

Most of the boxers also had a history of heavy drinking and more than half had stroke risk factors like hypertension, diabetes, smoking or obesity.

Preliminary data from Middlemore's Memory Clinic suggests Pacific people present at a younger age but at a later stage of the disease. "So they were getting it earlier and they weren't seeking out help until later".

But while the study authors said evidence was mounting for Pacific people being at higher risk for dementia, New Zealand does not have any dementia prevalence data to confirm the link.

"So we suspect that Pacific people already have a higher risk of developing earlier-onset dementia. If you add a history of boxing on top of this, then you're going to be in a very high-risk category."

In the meantime, they suggest sports physicians should advise young New Zealand Pacific boxers about the potential long-term risk associated with their sport, advice that New Zealand's former WBO world champion heavyweight Joseph Parker endorsed.

"In boxing I take my health very seriously and take all the precautions I can," Parker told the NZ Herald. "People will always be free to choose to box but any study that can help improve health outcomes at the grassroots level has to be a good thing for the sport."

Policy news & developments

New MPI units: The Ministry for Primary Industries has established three new business units - Biosecurity New Zealand, Fisheries New Zealand and New Zealand Food Safety.

Regional fuel tax: Auckland Council has voted in favour of a regional fuel tax.

Measles reminder: As students head back to school, the Ministry of Health is reminding families to be aware of the risk of measles.

Access to emergency information: Deaf communities will have improved access to emergency information following an agreement between Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management and Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand.

North Island Mycoplasma: A second farm in the North Island has tested positive for the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis.

Plantation forestry standards: The new National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry have come into effect.

Mental health workers in schools: Seven mental health professionals, counsellors and community workers have begun working in 15 Canterbury and Kaikōura schools.


What we've been reading
With an abundance of news stories to possibly read, watch and listen to, it can be hard to find the gems. Here we highlight some of the stories that caught our attention this week.

Broken Bad: A country in the grip of meth
RNZ sent journalists out across New Zealand to chronicle daily life in a country teeming with methamphetamine.

Police, politics and race: Long and anguished tale of constabulary's relationship with Māori
Stuff national correspondent Carmen Parahi's three-part series Turning of the Tide examines police's relationship with Māori.

The extraordinary life and death of the world’s oldest known spider
She was born beneath an acacia tree in one of the few patches of wilderness left in the southwest Australian wheat belt, in an underground burrow lined with her mother’s perfect silk. The Washington Post farewells the world's oldest known spider.


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