The most widely used insecticides in the world pose a serious threat to both wild bees and honeybees, according to latest research conducted by the scientific risk assessors of the European Union. This conclusion was drawn from an analysis of over 1,500 studies, indicating that neonicotinoid pesticides could be banned from all fields across the EU. Nations under the Union will decide on the issue in April 2018.
Neonicotinoids as a Threat
For years, researchers have been collecting evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides, meant to ward off pests off agricultural crops, are also endangering bees. But real-world simulations have been limited, until recently with the release of field studies confirming that they are, indeed, detrimental to wild bees and honeybees.
According to a report published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the chemical compound’s risk to bees depends on the exposure route and type of crop, but the probability of a “high risk” situation is definitely present. The effects include a reduction in the numbers of queen bees and damaging bee memory.
Due to the abundance of data, EFSA’s pesticides unit head Jose Tarazona said that it enabled the team to produce more detailed conclusions. The results indicated that contamination from neonicotinoid pesticides did not come from non-flowering crops, like barley and wheat, but from the water and soil that end up appearing in flowers.
Neonicotinoids are usually applied to the coating of the seeds to stop insects from feeding on the plants. Once applied, the chemical spreads into the environment by seeping into the surrounding water and soil, reaching crops. Another way neonicotinoids spread is by way of mechanical planting devices. These can consume some of the coatings that will create a chemical cloud, which then scatters all over the crop site.
Many environmentalists and scientists welcomed the conclusion, saying that the findings are an “important announcement.”
The Call for Permanent Ban
In 2013, the EU put a temporary ban on the chemicals that were commonly used to treat seeds. But even with the current restrictions, neonicotinoid use is still prevalent in many EU countries. Such is the reason why the Union wants to push a total ban on the chemical’s use.
The regulations for the proposed permanent ban have already been drafted. It cites that farmers should cease the use of the chemical from all fields across Europe, but it may still be used in closed greenhouses.
However, not all agree with EFSA’s findings — neonicotinoid producers being one of them. A spokesperson for Syngenta, a neonicotinoid manufacturer, called EFSA’s decision “extremely impractical” and “overly conservative.” They also said that the total ban will result in the illegalization of the use of all pesticides. Several EU nations still await EFSA’s complete report before coming up with a decision.
The Declining Bee Population
The decline in the bee population has been blamed previously on habitat destruction and disease. Scientists keep track of these numbers because bees are essential pollinators and are important for the production of food. With EFSA’s report, another factor has been added to the declining bee population — the uncontrolled use neonicotinoid chemicals.
As of now, there is no proposed alternative to these insecticides to date, causing some experts to question if the ban will, indeed, help in restoring bee health and population. If EFSA decides to implement the permanent ban, there is a tendency that other chemicals would simply replace neonicotinoids and the effects may be far worse.
Farmers are yet to be advised what other options are available, but EFSA’s move seems to be a wake-up call to invest in technology that will reduce the impact of chemicals on bees and other pollinators.