New Four-Year Scientific Analysis: Systemic Pesticides Pose Global Threat to Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

The conclusions of a new meta-analysis of the systemic pesticides neonicotinoids and fipronil confirm that they are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees.

Concern about the impact of systemic pesticides on a variety of beneficial species has been growing for the last 20 years but the science has not been considered conclusive until now.

Undertaking a full analysis of all the available literature (800 peer reviewed reports) the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides — a group of global, independent scientists — has found that there is clear evidence of harm sufficient to trigger regulatory action.

The analysis, known as the Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA), to be published in the peer reviewed Journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research, finds that neonics pose a serious risk of harm to honeybees and other pollinators such as butterflies and to a wide range of other invertebrates such as earthworms and vertebrates such as birds.

Dr Jean-Marc Bonmatin of The National Centre for Scientific Research in France, a lead author of the WIA, will speak at a press conference* in Ottawa Wednesday June 25th. He says: “The evidence is very clear. We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT. Far from protecting food production the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it, imperilling the pollinators, habitat engineers and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning ecosystem.”

The authors strongly suggest that regulatory agencies apply more precautionary principles and further tighten regulations on neonicotinoids and fipronil and start planning for a global phase-out or at least a strong reduction of the global scale of use.

More at

Report Shows Claims of Cost of Neo-nicotinoid Ban are Wildly Exaggerated

The exaggerated claims of the agrochemical industry are challenged in written evidence by the Association of Independent Crop Consultants to the Environmental Audit Committee
The loss of neonicotinoids in the combinable crop sector, oil seed rape, winter wheat and barley, would not, at this moment in time threaten crop viability but would make control of pests and the diseases they transmit more difficult.”

According to a new FoE Report, whilst the headline cost of the neonicotinoid ban is £2-20/ha in OSR there is a saving of £13/ha in wheat.

This report analysing the economic cost of the neonicotinoid ban and suggesting first steps towards developing a future pesticide regime that limits the impact on bees and beneficial insects is funded by Friends of the Earth.

The full Friends of the Earth report ‘Farmers need bees; bees need farmers’ is available at

Independently, but coming hard on the heels of the FoE report, Professor Dave Goulson of Sussex University questions whether neo-nicotinoids actually benefit farmers at all -  ( )
According to Professor Goulson, “The debate over neonicotinoids and bees rolls on and on, with new studies emerging every day. It seems to me that the evidence on bumblebees is clear and convincing – realistic doses are very likely to be doing harm to wild colonies – but the evidence for honeybees remains muddier. However, most of the studies finding no impact on honeybees have been funded by or performed by the industry that manufactures the chemicals, so murky waters are to be expected.

My visit coincided with the launch of a fascinating review of the economic value of neonicotinoids, produced by the Centre for Food Safety, a US-based non-profit organisation. They review 19 studies that have evaluated how much neonicotinoid seed dressings (the usual way of using these chemicals) increase yield of a range of crops, including wheat, corn, soya beans, and oilseed rape. The findings are astonishing – in every case, the studies either found no benefit whatsoever, or weak and inconsistent benefits unlikely to offset the cost of the pesticide. As Dr Christian Krupke (a leading researcher on this topic at Purdue University) said to me, “There may be places in the US where the pests are so bad that farmers need neonicotinoid seed dressings, but we can’t find them”.

In short, the most widely used pesticides in the world – prophylactically applied to arable crops across the globe – appear to be ineffective, and to have been widely miss-sold. It reminds me a little of the Payment Protection Insurance scandal – farmers are advised to use seed dressings as an insurance against something which, it seems, almost never happens.

Remarkably, no similar studies seem to have ever been performed in the UK or elsewhere in Europe to evaluate how much, if at all, neonic seed dressings increase yield here. It would be easy to do – experimental plots of crops that are treated exactly the same, except for the presence or absence of the seed dressing. How did these chemicals come to be so widely used without the manufacturers demonstrating clearly that they worked? If they did perform such studies, why can nobody find them? Sceptics such as I might also point to Italy, where neonics were banned on corn some years ago and where yields have remained stable and corn farming profitable.

For me, this turns the whole bee debate on its head. If neonic seed dressings were essential to grow crops, one might have to accept a risk of harm to bees. But it seems that they are not.

In Europe, a decision will need to be made in the next year or so as to whether the current EU moratorium is extended or allowed to lapse. This new evidence will hopefully help to prevent the latter.”

Neonicotinoids: Role of pesticides in bee decline

An international panel of scientists is calling for an evidence-driven debate over whether a widely used type of insecticide is to blame for declines in bees and other insect pollinators.

The Oxford Martin School published on May 21st the second in its “restatement” series. Restatements take an area of current policy concern and controversy and attempt to set out the science evidence base in as policy neutral way as possible. They also provide a commentary on the nature of the evidence base.

The restatement, from a group of nine scientists led by Professor Charles Godfray and Professor Angela McLean from the Oxford Martin School, attempts to clarify the scientific evidence available on neonicotinoids to enable different stakeholders to develop coherent policy and practice recommendations.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.  It is open access and can be downloaded from the Royal Society website here or you can download a single pdf of the paper with the Annotated Bibliography.

An EU ban on certain neonicotinoid insecticides was introduced in December 2013 because of fears they were harming pollinating insects. Pollination by insects is critical for many crops and for wild plants but at the same time neonicotinoids are one of the most effective insecticides used by farmers. Potential tensions amongst the agricultural and environmental consequences of neonicotinoid use have made this topic one of the most controversial involving science and policy.

Professor Charles Godfray said: “Pollinators are clearly exposed to neonicotinoid insecticides, but seldom to lethal doses, and we need a better understanding of the consequences of realistic sub-lethal doses to the insect individual, bee colony and pollinator population.”

Professor Angela McLean added; “A major question to be addressed is what farmers will do now that they face restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids. Will they switch to crops that need less insecticide treatment or might they apply older but more dangerous chemicals?”

The restatement describes how much insecticide is present in a treated plant and how much is consumed by pollinators. It goes on to summarise how neonicotinoids affect individual bees and other pollinators, and the consequences at the colony and population levels.

In reaction to this study, Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Advisor at Defra, said: “It is essential that policies on the use of pesticides are built on sound scientific evidence.  This paper provides an independent assessment of this subject, which will provide clarity and authority in order to help people make more informed choices.”

Paul de Zylva, from Friends of the Earth, commented: “This project is an important step toward much needed public and scientific debate and scrutiny. The Government should support and fund both more open science and safer ways to grow crops as part of its National Pollinator Strategy due in July.”

Read the full press release accompanying the paper here.

Here are some key facts about neonicotinoids and pollinators.

Study strengthens link between neonicotinoids and collapse of honey bee colonies

Boston, MA — Two widely used neonicotinoids—a class of insecticide—appear to significantly harm honey bee colonies over the winter, particularly during colder winters, according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The study replicated a 2012 finding from the same research group that found a link between low doses of imidacloprid and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), in which bees abandon their hives over the winter and eventually die. The new study also found that low doses of a second neonicotinoid, clothianidin, had the same negative effect.

Further, although other studies have suggested that CCD-related mortality in honey bee colonies may come from bees’ reduced resistance to mites or parasites as a result of exposure to pesticides, the new study found that bees in the hives exhibiting CCD had almost identical levels of pathogen infestation as a group of control hives, most of which survived the winter. This finding suggests that the neonicotinoids are causing some other kind of biological mechanism in bees that in turn leads to CCD.

The study appeared online May 9, 2014 in the Bulletin of Insectology.

“We demonstrated again in this study that neonicotinoids are highly likely to be responsible for triggering CCD in honey bee hives that were healthy prior to the arrival of winter,” said lead author Chensheng (Alex) Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology at HSPH.

Since 2006, there have been significant losses of honey bees from CCD. Pinpointing the cause is crucial to mitigating this problem since bees are prime pollinators of roughly one-third of all crops worldwide. Experts have considered a number of possible causes, including pathogen infestation, beekeeping practices, and pesticide exposure. Recent findings, including a 2012 study by Lu and colleagues, suggest that CCD is related specifically to neonicotinoids, which may impair bees’ neurological functions. Imidacloprid and clothianidin both belong to this group.

Lu and his co-authors from the Worcester County Beekeepers Association studied the health of 18 bee colonies in three locations in central Massachusetts from October 2012 through April 2013. At each location, the researchers separated six colonies into three groups—one treated with imidacloprid, one with clothianidin, and one untreated.

There was a steady decline in the size of all the bee colonies through the beginning of winter—typical among hives during the colder months in New England. Beginning in January 2013, bee populations in the control colonies began to increase as expected, but populations in the neonicotinoid-treated hives continued to decline. By April 2013, 6 out of 12 of the neonicotinoid-treated colonies were lost, with abandoned hives that are typical of CCD. Only one of the control colonies was lost—thousands of dead bees were found inside the hive—with what appeared to be symptoms of a common intestinal parasite called Nosema ceranae.

While the 12 pesticide-treated hives in the current study experienced a 50% CCD mortality rate, the authors noted that, in their 2012 study, bees in pesticide-treated hives had a much higher CCD mortality rate—94%. That earlier bee die-off occurred during the particularly cold and prolonged winter of 2010-2011 in central Massachusetts, leading the authors to speculate that colder temperatures, in combination with neonicotinoids, may play a role in the severity of CCD.

“Although we have demonstrated the validity of the association between neonicotinoids and CCD in this study, future research could help elucidate the biological mechanism that is responsible for linking sub-lethal neonicotinoid exposures to CCD,” said Lu. “Hopefully we can reverse the continuing trend of honey bee loss.”

Funding for the study came from Wells Fargo Foundation and the Breck Fund at the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

“Sub-lethal exposure to neonicotinoids impaired honey bees winterization before proceeding to colony collapse disorder,” Chensheng Lu, Kenneth M. Warchol, Richard A. Callahan, Bulletin of Insectology, online Friday, May 9, 2014

The Impact of Pesticides on Bee Health – London January 2014

The link below will direct you to the programme for the above meeting, which includes brief synopses of the speaker’s presentations. This programme has been edited to highlight those presentations which demonstrate the harm of mainly neonicotinoids to bees (in yellow) and those which show no impact (in blue). The research that shows “evidence of an impact” is in the majority, whilst the evidence against harm comes primarily from pesticide companies or research teams who rely on funding from pesticide companies.

The Impact of Pesticides on Bee Health

22 – 24 January 2014 at Charles Darwin House, London, UK

Joint meeting of the British Ecological Society, Biochemical Society and the Society for Experimental Biology

The impact of pesticides on bee health jan 2014 – Programme

You can see a recording of the discussion session at the meeting website

UK Government Appears to Endorse Latest EFSA Guidelines on Pesticides

In a recent communication to Small Blue Marble Lord de Mauley has confirmed that the UK Government have no plans to develop their own pesticide testing regime, but will instead adopt the one proposed by the European Food Safety Agency. This is likely to result in a permanent ban on the use of neo-nicotinoids.

The latest EFSA Guidelines on pesticide testing can be downloaded here

UK Government Releases Ministerial Advice to Farmers on neo-nicotinoid Alternatives Under FoI

Click here to see report

The UK government advice is, as expected, to revert to synthetic pyrethroids for the duration. Contrary to assurances given that this advice will include a reminder for all farmers to notify local beekeeping association spray liaison officers ahead of spraying, this has not been included.

So far DEFRA have not made any statement about what they intend to do do during the moratorium – will they develop a new protocol for toxicity/risk assessment? Will they monitor sub-lethal effects of historical contamination?

The 2013 International Conference on Pollinator Biology, Health, and Policy

Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research hosted the 2nd International Conference on Pollinator Biology Health and Policy from August 14-17, 2013.

The goal of the conference was to highlight the diversity of issues facing pollinators, and to bring together multiple interest groups to engage in a dialog about the best approaches to mitigating these issues and supporting conservation. The conference attracted over 230 people from 15 different countries. Speakers and registrants included representatives from academic and government research groups, government policy organizations, agricultural industries, beekeeper groups, non-profit organizations, and private citizens. Selected materials from the conference are below, including the program and abstract booklet, and the powerpoint presentations of speakers in the symposium on Evolving Policies on Pollinator Risk Assessment and Conservation.

Papers can be downloaded from or from the research page of this website

Neonicotinoids put Pollinator Services at Risk

Utrecht, 07 June 2013

Scientists urge transition to pollinator-friendly agriculture

Present scale of use of neonicotinoid pesticides put pollinator services at risk


Honeybee disorders and high colony losses have become global phenomena. An international team of scientist led by Utrecht University synthesized recent findings on the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on bees. Scientists conclude in the scientific journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability that owing to neonicotinoids large-scale prophylactic use in agriculture, their high persistence in soil and water, and their uptake by plants and trans-location to flowers, neonicotinoids put pollinator services at risk.

Rapidly emerging scientific insights
One third of the world food production and 87.5% of all flowering plants on Earth critically depend on pollinators.
To protect honeybees, the European Commission decided on 24 May 2013 to ban the use of the three most toxic neonicotinoids in crops attractive to bees.

Over the past two years more than 150 new scientific studies on the effects of neonicotinoids on bees have been published.
An international team of six European scientists led by Dr. Jeroen van der Sluijs from Utrecht University’s Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, for the first time made a comprehensive synthesis of these new insights. The study appeared today in the leading journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. Last month, the same group discovered that the large scale pollution of surface waters in Europe with imidacloprid has led to a dramatic decline (on average a loss of 70%) in insect-richness in and around the polluted surface waters and wetlands.

A copy of this paper can be downloaded from the Research Page

Bayer and the European Environment Agency in Conflict Over Report

The European Environment Agency have this month published a report ‘Late lessons from early warnings: science, precaution, innovation’ (EEA, 2013) available at: which comprehensively assesses the historical conflict between commercial companies and protection of the environment and makes a case for the stronger use of the precautionary principle. After publication Bayer reacted angrily in an illuminating dialogue between Dr Richard Schmuck, Head of Department of Environmental Safety of Bayer CropScience and the authors of the chapter on ‘Seed-dressing systemic insecticides and honeybees’, Laura Maxim and Jeroen van der Sluijs, which you can read here; Late lessons from early warnings II – Bee decline web debate . The dialogue goes much further than scientific disagreements, and exposes the way large companies like Bayer exert disproportionate influence through participation in quasi official bodies such as the ICPPR – The International Commission for Plant-Pollinator Relationships, and their funding of, and influence over, ostensibly independent research.