The European Commission voted on 29th April to suspend the use of neonicotinoid insecticides in response to concern that the use of these insecticides may be linked to the decline in bee numbers called ‘colony collapse disorder”.
The proposal is to restrict the use of 3 active ingredients from the neonicotinoid group (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam) for seed treatment, soil application (granules) and foliar treatment on bee attractive plants and cereals - such as canola, sunflowers and corn.
The proposal still has to be legalised but it is planned that the restrictions will apply from 1 December 2013 for a period of 2 years and will be reviewed in this period to take into account new relevant scientific and technical developments.
The decision was not unanimous and this reflects the fact that the evidence is not clear cut.
There are a number of possible causes for this decline in bee numbers. One of the main suspects is Varroa destructo mite. These parasites attach to honeybees and appear to carry bee viruses. For example, in France where Varroa mites are wide spread, declines in the bee population in mountainous areas where neonicotinoids are not used are similar to those on agricultural land where they are commonly used.
Where Varroa mites are not present, bee populations thrive, even when neonicotinoids are heavily used. For example, Australia, which is currently Varroa-free, boasts a healthy bee population in spite of widespread use of neonicotinoids for over a decade. In fact Australian beekeepers export queen bees and nucleus hives to countries with declining populations.
The problem with many of the laboratory studies that supposedly establish a link between neonicotinoids and bee deaths is that the doses applied are far above what a realistic field dose exposure would be.
Field studies have been conducted that compared hives exposed to normal field doses of neonicotinoids with hives that were not. Measurement of bee deaths, weight gain of colonies , and insecticide residue on bees and in pollen, nectar, beeswax and honey failed to establish a link between insecticidal seed treatments and bee health.
In Australia, the crop protection regulator (APVMA) started a review of neonicotinoids in August 2012. The status of this can be found at http://www.apvma.gov.au/news_media/chemicals/neonics.php.
APVMA is also consulting with a wide range of other stakeholders including government research and regulatory agencies, primary producer associations and beekeepers.
They expect to release a draft report in mid-2013
The APVMA - on their web site - notes that:
Sumitomo Chemical Australia market two products that contain the active ingredient clothianidin. These are named Sumitomo Samurai Systemic Insecticide ™and Sumitomo Shield Systemic Insecticide™. Both can be used for foliar and soil application.
Sumitomo Chemical has conducted its own field trials in Australia, Europe and the USA which demonstrate that their products containing the active ingredient clothianidin will have no effect on bee health when used as the label directs. The results of this work have been made available to the relevant regulatory authorities.