Neonics & Bees

Neonicotinoid Pesticides, Bees and Science

According to the EU Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive, farmers should be applying Integrated Pest Management farming principles to their pest problems. There are International Guidelines on IPM - GlobalGAP. The NFU has produced a guide for IPM as part of the Voluntary Initiative The last government produced a National Action Plan. The government needs to promote this in line with EU law: They should be investing in long term research - 3yr funding wont work to examine other ways to control pests like flea beetle. In the meantime, there needs to be a lot more advice (but the Advisory System has also been privatised see 'Extension Services) for Oilseed Rape. The advice would include means chopping and changing your crops, and lengthening rotations to break up pest cycles, earlier sowing and better preparation of the seed bed - found to be the main cause of flea beetle invasions last year (see September 2014 below). 

The UK enacted the Directive pretty well, in part because we had a good legal system for training sprayers (apart from Grandads!) and that  "Initial training and certification for users is provided by regulated private sector organisations and institutions such as agricultural colleges". I think HSE' Agricultural Industry Advisory Committee (AIAC). and its sub Committee Chemag can take a lot of credit for that. Around this time, I was an expert member of the UK government's Advisory Committee on Pesticides (for more on ACP),  a union member of the HSE' Agricultural Industry Advisory Committee (AIAC). and wrote on How Sustainability aspects could impact on Pesticides in "Outlooks in Pest Management 2007. 

So it isnt surprising that I've been following the 'Neonics killing bees'  issue closely'  First look at the background, and then the role that Europe plays - given this 'bees being killed' issue may well be in Brexit negotiations. Start in 2013, although you need to read from bottom to top as it makes an interesting story through the moratorium years of 2014 2015 2016. leading to Where we are now and Outstanding Issues. A decision will need to be reached early 2017 following a judgement by EFSA.. Would UK farmers abide by any decision or claim 'Brexit means Brexit'? 

So  here is the history in reverse order, occasionally with my comments in red. The paper published by CEH in August will be crucial.



Rothamsted Research Station 'Position Paper' claimed that moves to ban or further restrict neonicotinoids would make it “very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain production of many crops” in the UK, including sugar beet and oilseed rape. Rothamsted researchers said reliance on alternative chemicals could speed up development of resistance to the chemicals in pests.

EU looks like introducing total ban on Neonics later in year. According to the Guardian "the Commission plans to recommend - almost - a blanket ban on neonicotinoids, with only use in greenhouses permitted. The proposals could go to the vote as early as May and, if passed, would come into force before the end of 2017. "

Syngenta & Bayer challenge ban in EU Court. with NFU making the case for farmers.

Lack of Neonics - have they affected OSR yields? Confusion reigns.

NFU apply for derogations to spray

St Andrews study says Syngenta study of 2013, so small as to be useless.

EFSA Assessment delayed till Autumn to cope with all the studies submitted.



Greenpeace publishes Syngenta & Bayer studies which "show that high concentrations of two neonicotinoids harm bees, and that the data could have been of use to independent scientists studying bee health. "


Nature Communications. Impacts of neonicotinoid use on long term poppulation changes in bees  "relates 18 years of UK national wild bee distribution data for 62 species to amounts of neonicotinoid use in oilseed rape. Using a multi-species dynamic Bayesian occupancy analysis, we find evidence of increased population extinction rates in response to neonicotinoid seed treatment use on oilseed rape. Species foraging on oilseed rape benefit from the cover of this crop, but were on average three times more negatively affected by exposure to neonicotinoids than non-crop foragers." and 

"Interestingly, we found that the application of foliar applied insecticides had little or no negative consequences for population persistence of wild bees." (Neonics - systemic insecticides, are usually applied as a seed treatment) The suggest these Codes may well be working. DEFRA. Code of Practice for Using Plant Protection Products (2006). & Thompson, H. M. Assessing the exposure and toxicity of pesticides to bumblebees (Bombus sp.). Apidologie 32, 305–321 (2001)."

 More  Full CEH Study

CC Comment: If we were to base policy on this evidence (and it seems pretty substantial evidence) then we would ban neonic seed treatment. This is quite a good idea, as this sort of treatment is called 'prophylactic', ie 'acting to prevent disease'. The drawback is that this treatment is applied even when there is no disease - 'just in case'. The obvious parallel is the regular use of anti-biotics in cattle in America - whereas we only use when needed. This leads to quicker buildup of  resistance in the bugs and hence earlier obsolescence. 

However the study does leave the way to allowing foliar sprays - when necessary. ie if an outbreak of flea beetle occurs then foliar sprays - within the Code of Practice would be used. This way it means that farmers / agronomists would need to use rotations, build better beds and keep an eye out for the pest - in other words Integrated Pest Management and spraying is a last resort  - using properly qualified applicators of course. This would conform to the EU DIrective and IPM (see above)


Soil Association research indicates that bees may be contaminated more from wildflowers than crop exposure.

Ministers reject 'emergency use' call by NFU. following their Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP) saying the application contained “insufficient information to ensure that use will be limited only to those areas where there is a danger or threat to plant protection and [did not] offer adequate assurance that the use will be controlled in an appropriate fashion”.


Maryland poised to vote on Pollination Protection Act

Sussex University research suggest "clothianidin impaired the honeybees' ability to learn the association, but apparently had no adverse effects on the bumblebees."


France National Assembly narrowly voted to ban neonics from Sept 2018. This vote has to go before Senate to pass into law 


EFSA to review moratorium and report back January 2017.

Farmers Guardian Flea Beetle damage down, despite no neonics