No time limit set on neonicotinoid restrictions

Commission's review of the information on the effects of neonicotinoids still a work in progress.

Bees: health fears for pollinator - image: Rolf Brecher
Bees: health fears for pollinator - image: Rolf Brecher

The European Commission has emphasised that restrictions on neonicotinoids will remain in place until a fresh review has been completed and it has decided what measures to take.

The EC restricted the use of the pesticides clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam in May 2013 because of fears to bees' health, with a promise to review evidence after two years.

Regulation 485/2013 initiated a review of new scientific information from the end of May 2015.

EC representative Frederic Vincent said: "The Commission services have mandated the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to carry out a call for data to ensure this review will not only be based on new studies submitted by applicants but also on other publicly available scientific information. As a following step, the Commission will mandate EFSA to assess those data. Once this review has been carried out by EFSA, only if justified, the Commission will consider what measures to take.

"As laid down in the regulations the restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids remain in place while this review is carried out. The restrictions are not, as is often misunderstood, limited in time."

NFU acting chief horticulture adviser Dr Chris Hartfield said the situation on the pesticides is still "clear as mud". He added: "Just to be clear, there is no moratorium, no two-year ban, no time-limited ban. This is always misquoted. The regulation enforcing the neonicotinoid restrictions has no 'end date'. The 'two-year' issue arises because the regulation simply requires the Commission to initiate a review of any new scientific information around the issue within two years of the regulation being published (May 2013), which it has done by getting its technical advisory arm EFSA to start a review of new evidence. In response to the EFSA call, the NFU will be making sure it is aware of relevant data and reports.

"Since the restrictions began in 2013 there's been no game-changing body of evidence to settle the debate. The big unanswered question remains whether the harmful impacts observed in studies based on artificially dosing bees occur in real-life field situations and cause population declines.

"A recently published Swedish study did find harm to wild bees, but not honeybees, in real fields but does this mean neonicotinoids are causing widespread declines in bee populations or does it just mean that insecticide-treated fields can be inhospitable places for insects? We still don't know."

HTA viewpoint

"Neonicotinoids have been widely adopted because of their effectiveness in treating insect pests and their favourable human and environmental safety profile, especially when compared to the older products they replaced. They play a critical role in modern integrated pest management programmes by targeting specific pests while helping to preserve beneficial insects. With hundreds of studies having been conducted, we know more about neonicotinoids and bees than about any other class of insecticide."

Raul Curtis-Machin, HTA

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