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Reports spark row over bee-bothering insecticides

January 19, 2013
Daniel Cressey
1/16/2013
Source …..

BeesThree reports by Europe’s food-safety body have stoked controversy over the possible links between the use of neonicotinoid insecticides and declining bee populations. One leading insecticide manufacturer has attacked the reports, calling them “hurried and inadequate”.

A number of scientific studies have linked neonicotinoids to adverse effects on bee colonies (see Nature video) but some researchers believe that the drop in bee numbers seen in the United States, Europe and elsewhere is attributable to a combination of factors.

Honey trap

The latest assessments from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma, Italy, are based on existing studies of three neonicotinoids: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. The reports conclude that these chemicals should be used only on crops that are not attractive to honey bees, so that the insects are not exposed to the insecticides through pollen and nectar. Dust and plant sap contaminated with the chemicals may also pose a risk to bees, says the EFSA.

The EFSA is an independent advisory body, and any ban or restrictions on the use of the three chemicals would require legislation by the European Union (EU) or individual nations.

The work has attracted fierce criticism from John Atkin, chief operating officer at thiamethoxam manufacturer Syngenta, which is based in Basel, Switzerland. In a statement, Atkin said, “It is obvious to us that EFSA has found itself under political pressure to produce a hurried and inadequate risk assessment, which even they acknowledge contains a high level of uncertainty. Their report, compiled in under three months, has not taken account of the comprehensive scientific studies that preceded the launch of neonicotinoids, and many years of extensive monitoring in the field.”

Nature has asked the EFSA to respond to this statement.

Data gaps

The European Commission welcomed the EFSA’s assessments. The conclusions “are somewhat concerning when it comes to the potential impact of these particular products”, a commission spokesperson said, but “there are still many shortfalls in the scientific data that were analysed”.

Some EU member states are already scrutinizing neonicotinoids. In the United Kingdom, for example, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has commissioned field studies on the impact of the insecticides on bees. “If it is concluded that restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids are necessary, they will be brought in,” the agency said in a statement.

Bayer, a chemical company based in Leverkusen, Germany, which manufactures imidacloprid and clothianidin, said in a statement that it does not believe that the EFSA’s reports “alter the quality and validity” of previous risk assessments by the EU and member states that have permitted the use of its products. The chemical company pins most of the blame for bee declines on parasitic Varroa mites.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 20, 2013 1:47 am

    [1] Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides with a common mode of action that affects the central nervous system of insects, causing paralysis and death. A number of recent studies have suggested that exposure to neonicotinoids at sub-lethal doses can have significant negative effects on bee health and bee colonies. [2] Doses that are not fatal but which may have damaging effects. [3] Guttation is the process by which some plants exude sap in droplets that resemble dew. [4] EFSA Guidance Document on the Risk Assessment of Plant Protection Products on Bees (draft version published for public consultation on 20 September 2012).

  2. January 20, 2013 1:04 am

    When people can’t fault the facts, they turn to ‘ad hominem’ attacks – i.e. attack the messenger. Rachel Carson’s singular achievement was she pointed out that DDT was a highly dangerous organochlorine that was killing birds by the millions – especially the raptors which were at the top of the food chain. Can you cite ANY paper which refutes those facts? Secondly, the Guardian was merely reporting the publication of a report by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) – more or less the equivalent of the EPA, except that it serves the 27 countries of the European Union rather than the 51 (?) States of the USA. The Guardian did not carry out any of these studies – they did not write this report; they merely reported on the conclusions of the report by EFSA – which was written by dozens of scientists from every one of the 27 member countries of the EU. That’s a lot of brain power and a lot of universities. In fact, the report carries even more weight, because EFSA is known to be an ‘industry-friendly’ agency – and just like the EPA it has steadfastly denied any connection between neonics and bee deaths for the last 15 years. What has changed is that the weight of scientific papers which confirm the causal link between neonics and the deaths of bees, other pollinators and birds – is now so overwhelming that even EFSA cannot carry on ignoring it. Sadly the EPA IS still ignoring it, but that is because the American EPA is largely an industry-front organisation – led by political appointees who used to work for Monsanto until Bush handed the EPA to them tied up in a pink ribbon.

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