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Neonicotinoids – is it time for them to buzz off?

A honey bee on a purple flower

It’s been a tough few years for bees, with numbers dropping in the UK and internationally. Could agricultural insecticides be to blame? Do you use insecticides to keep your garden pest-free?

Everyone agrees that bee numbers are in decline, but the reasons why are still hotly debated.

It’s likely that there are several factors at work, but one that’s been in the frame for a while is a group of insecticides called neonicotinoids. They’re used on some crops and can also be found in many garden pesticides. They’ve already been banned in several countries, including France.

Friends of the Earth is calling on the government to suspend three neonicotinoids from sale and to overhaul pesticide safety tests, which it says are inadequate. It also wants David Cameron to urgently implement a Bee Action Plan. The campaign has been given a boost by a recent European Food Standards Authority Report, which suggests that neonicotinoids pose a risk to bees.

Banishing the bug killers

B&Q and Homebase have recently announced that they’re removing Bayer Lawn Grub Killer from their shelves and Wickes is withdrawing Westland Plant Rescue Bug Killer, both of which contain neonicotinoids. But there are at least 20 more products that contain these chemicals, many of them popular insecticides, and there are, as yet, no plans to withdraw these. A full list of pesticides containing neonicotinoids can be found at pan-uk.org.

Manufacturers insist that pesticides are safe if used according to the label – but does everyone read the label? Even if you do, the wording about bees and the warning not to spray plants in flower or when bees are likely to be flying around is often so small that it could easily go unnoticed.

Dr Ken Thompson, wildlife expert and Which? Gardening contributor, says:

‘Neonics are very effective pesticides, so I can understand the temptation to use them. But they get into pollen and nectar, so you are likely to feed them to your bees, however careful you are. My advice would be to think very hard about whether you really need to use insecticides at all, and then use them only as a last resort. And if at all possible, do not use insecticides on or near plants with flowers that are visited by bees.’

I haven’t had to think about it much at all – I don’t use insecticides. Anything that’s labelled a ‘bug killer’ will kill any bug, not just bad ones. Bees need all the help they can get, so surely anything that is thought to harm them should be withdrawn as a precaution?

Do you use insecticides and if so, do you read the label? Do you think neonicotinoids should be banned?

Friend of the bees says:
9 March 2013

An important research article from the American Bird Conservancy has just been published, which analysed all the factors related to bird declines on grassland/ farmland. It looks at ‘habitat loss’. agricultural intensification and pesticide use – among other things. They found that the ‘strongest predictor’ for bird population decline, was the intensity of pesticide use.

This confirms what we have suspected for some years, namely that the super-efficiency of neoncotinoids, in killing virtually all insect life, above and below ground, coupled with the extreme persistence of clothianidin and imidacloprid in farm-soils (2-19 years) – is the best ‘predictor’ of farmland bird declines.


” Common agricultural birds are in decline, both in Europe and in North America.
Evidence from Europe suggests that agricultural intensification and, for some species, the indirect effects of pesticides mediated through a loss of insect food resource is in part responsible.

On a state-by-state basis for the conterminous Unites States (U.S.), we looked at several agronomic variables to predict the number of grassland species increasing or declining according to breeding bird surveys conducted between 1980 and 2003.

Best predictors of species declines were the lethal risk from insecticide use modeled from pesticide impact studies, followed by the loss of cropped pasture. Loss of permanent pasture or simple measures of agricultural intensification such as the proportion of land under crop or the proportion of farmland treated with herbicides did not explain bird declines as well.

Because the proportion of farmland treated with insecticides, and more particularly the lethal risk to birds from the use of current insecticides feature so prominently in the best models, this suggests that, in the U.S. at least, pesticide toxicity to birds should be considered as an important factor in grassland bird declines.

Che Guebuddha says:
9 March 2013

One of you said that there is a shortage of food!

If you care to spare 40 minutes of your life (im sure you spared much more on TV-advertisements) you can see in this documentary how to re-generate destryed eco systems around the world. By simply preserving the soil food web. Its that simple if one is not totally sold its soul to the profit orientated mind;



I agree with Cha – there’d be no shortage of food if we’d just divert less of the world’s cereal production to feeding animals

See http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2012/jun/07/super-farms-environment-livestock-climate – where Tim Lang (Prof of Food Policy at City University, London) states that “Half the world’s (and UK’s) cereal production is fed to animals. This is a ludicrous waste of arable potential, land use and ecological space.”

Beeboy says:
9 March 2013

• There is no evidence to suggest that crop yield will be harmfully affected; and even if there was a small drop in production the waste stats for the UK indicate that food availability would be of no concern to anyone.
• There is evidence to suggest that icides are so toxic that they kill indiscriminately and negatively affect the entire food chain in levels so low that it is quite possible they could be causing damage to every living thing that consumes any amount, even in undetectable quantities… (This could include humans).
• This is why the precautionary measure exists. The reason it is not being implemented is unfortunately due to government incompetence and miss-information.
(With respect claiming we need an absolute change in western lifestyle is a little beyond this topic and quite possibly counterproductive, not to say that I wouldn’t agree in a much deeper interrelated discussion)
• A Paranoid person may claim that the government must have unwritten back hand agreements and that the chemical industry have these ”Trolls” working for them to spread confusion; I however simply believe that those who claim there are no better alternatives without chemical interference are either wearing blinkers, or really do not understand that the entire eco system works best with a “natural balance”
• ***** Better Alternatives are Progressive Developments; more of the same is Stagnating Failures*****

Friend of the bees says:
10 March 2013

An interesting ‘factoid’ which was passed to me recently. In 1972 when the American EPA came into existence, total pesticide useage in the USA was 200,000,000 lbs by weight.
Today – – 40 odd years later, guess what pesticide use is now in America?
400 million lbs? 600 million lbs? even 800 million lbs?
No, the answer is apparently 5 BILLION pounds of pesticide used annually in the USA – that is:
5,000,000,000 lbs of poison. There are roughly 300 million people in theUSA, so that implies that they are using approx 15lbs of pesticides per person, per year.

California – just one state – uses almost 200 million pounds of pesticides on a SINGLE crop – almonds.
Check it out: http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/pur/pur10rep/comrpt10.pdf

Is it any wonder that America has some of the worst cancer rates and other disease rates in the world?

Che Guebuddha says:
11 March 2013

Someone here mentioned urban people not having land to produce food for themselves 😉 what a load of crap. Our country is OURS 🙂 claim the fields and start planting. This documentary demonstartes that its possible;
as well as this one;
and this one;

Grow the Revolution we need no pesticides 🙂

Just spotted this update on the EU neonicotinoids decision:


I have just spotted that Garden centre giants the Garden Centre Group and Dobbies have removed neonicotinoid-based pesticide products from their stores:


It is reported that FERA – the Food and Environment Reasearch Agency (FERA, a public body under Defra) has prepared two reports – “Honeybee Disease in Europe” and “Neonicotinoid Pesticides and Bees”. However these were not apparently done for the public, but for “a commercial client”. Who? A supplier of neonicotinoids.
The UK is resisting banning neonicotinoids until other work is concluded – despite the European Food Safety Authority conclusion that pesticides pose a high risk to bees.
If this is true, you have to ask whether the UK can be regarded as objective in giving a decision if it allows its resources to be used – and presumably paid for – by the industry with a vested interest in avioding a ban.

‘Neonicotinoid insecticides and bees’ is a Defra report subtitled ‘The state of the science and the regulatory response’, and there is no link with industry.

‘Honeybee Disease in Europe’ is subtitled ‘Report to Syngenta Ltd’, presumably because Defra acted as consultants.

Both documents are available as pdf files. I found them with a web search, thanks to your titles.

The first report is not the above, it is titled as stated “Neonicotinoid pesticides and bees”, was published by FERA, and is shown on their website along with the other document as a report to Syngenta Ltd and is headed “industry funded”.
It asks questions when a Government Department Reasearch Group undertakes paid work, presumably for an industry that has a vested interest in the outcome. I would have thought that FERA should be seen to be working independently of vested interests, funded by the public purse in the interests only of the public. Wouldn’t you?

Fera is part of Defra. Defra has been criticised for the amount it spends on specialist consultants. Other government agencies also use consultants. I don’t know, but I expect that government agencies are allowed to generate funds by acting as consultants. At least the report is available to the general public.

Potential for a conflict of interest, isn’t it?

There is always that possibility when employing consultants.

Here’s another research update from the BBC News website:


Friend of the bees says:
2 April 2013


Tonight there will be a short documentary shown on American TV – called ‘Buzzkill’ which will focus on the vast loss of bee colonies that has just happened among he California Almond groves.
Over 825,000 acres of the Central Valley of California is planted as a single monoculture of Almonds. This is the most profitable crop in all America – and generates more income than the entire California wine and tourism industries combined.

However, since they have killed all other plants and flowers in this 825,000 acre plantation, they have created an ecological dead-zone that supports few native bees, insects or birds. In addition they apply 20 million pounds weight of pesticides to the Almonds each year – that is 200 million pounds of pesticides in the last decade.

They have to bring 1.5 million beehives from all over America to pollinate the Almonds, which all bloom at the same time over a 3 week period. But the bees are exposed to all the pesticides used on the Almonds – and even worse, they bring with them stored pollen from Florida, Midwest etc – that is also contaminated with neonicotinoids.

The result every year has been the loss of about 30% of all the bee colonies brought to the Almonds. But this season it has been much worse, more than 50% of all the colonies have died within a matter of weeks, that is 750,000 bee colonies, valued at about $200 each – or $1.5 BILLION worth of bees. One farmer, Bret Adee, took 13,000 colonies to the Almonds this year and he has lost 10,000 hives of bees – worth around $2 million. it is an ecological disaster on a huge scale and this could be the last year. Because many of these migratory bee farmers will be bankrupted by this, which could spell economic disaster for the almond industry as well.

The film is broadcast at 8pm US Eastern time on Tuesday, so it will be Wednesday morning here before you can see it.

We’ve published a new Conversation about bees and pesticides if you’d like to join in: https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/neonicotinoid-pesticides-bees-gardening-usage-instructions/

Sue Lees says:
2 May 2013

We now have an agreed EU ban for two years on (much) neonicitinoid use (as at 29 April 2013). Thank goodness. (Regrettably UK Environment minister Owen Paterson voted against the ban.)

It’s not just affecting bees.

A Dutch paper on the effects of one of the neonicitinoids on aquatic life has just been published: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0062374

The authors conclude that: ” In addition to the existing experimental evidence on the negative effects of imidacloprid on invertebrate life, our study, based on data from large-scale field monitoring during multiple years, shows that serious concern about the far-reaching consequences of the abundant use of imidacloprid for aquatic ecosystems is justified.”

As the neonicitinoids have been spread far and wide (mostly since 2004), it is possible that the level of damage to life generally will be as extensive as that caused by DDT. It does seem shocking that many governments, including the UK’s, have let these pesticides explode into the environment.

Hi everyone, we’ve just posted a new story with some updates on pesticides and bees. Late last year the European Commission ruled that three neonicotinoids which are known to be harmful to bees should be banned for two years… but is that enough? Come and have look and join the debate.