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expert reaction to EU ban on outdoor use of three neonicotinoid pesticides

Further restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides have been approved following a vote in the European Commission.


Dr Bill Parker, Director of Research, Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), said:

“While this decision is not unexpected given the mounting weight of scientific evidence of the effects of neonics on pollinators, it is nonetheless a serious issue for the agricultural industry as it further restricts the crop protection toolbox that farmers and growers have available to them for controlling key pests.

“Although alternatives do exist, the consequence of this decision is likely to be a greater use of insecticides applied as foliar sprays (spray applied to leaves), particularly on crops such as wheat and sugar beet (the banned neonics were only ever applied as seed treatments, not as sprays).  The implication is that some foliar insecticide sprays can have a broader effect on insects present in the crop than seed treatments, though this does heavily depend on the spectrum of activity of individual insecticide products.  It is worth pointing out that insecticides (including neonics) accounted for 7% of total pesticide use by area treated in the UK in 2016, with neonics themselves representing 2% of the insecticide treated area.

“AHDB is actively involved in developing Integrated Pest Management programmes for all UK crops with the aim of reducing dependence on plant protection products.”


Prof Nigel Raine, Rebanks Family Chair in Pollinator Conservation, University of Guelph, Canada said:

“Reducing pesticide exposure by removing the use of these three most widely used neonicotinoids (Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam) from outdoor use is a major step towards improving pollinator health in the EU.  It represents part of the story to support pollinators – we also need to ensure there are sufficient flowers and nesting sites for these animals that support production of one in three mouthfuls of food we eat.

“The science supporting this decision has been unfolding over a number of years, particularly around important effects on behaviour and reproduction following low level chronic exposure to these insecticides.  It has also become increasing clear that different types of bees respond in different ways to similar exposure, and wild/unmanaged populations of pollinators may be more sensitive.  Policy makers in other jurisdictions will be paying close attention to these decisions.

“We rely on both farmers and pollinators for the food we eat.  Pesticide regulation is a balancing act between unintended consequences of their use for non-target organisms (including pollinators) and giving farmers the tools they need to control crop pests.  Disagreements around the extent of impacts of neonicotinoids have underlined the need to properly understand the ramifications of different routes of exposure.”


Prof Ian Toth, Senior Scientist in Cell and Molecular Sciences, and member leading the Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPM) research, The James Hutton Institute, said:

“The use of pesticides has been such an important part of crop production for decades that loss or reduction in the use of such chemicals, including neonicotinoids, will almost certainly affect crop yields and, ultimately, the price of food for consumers.  Now more than ever it is so important that we find alternative methods of control through more resistant crops, biocontrol and other integrated pests management approaches.”


Prof Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology (Evolution, Behaviour and Environment), University of Sussex, said:

“Given the ongoing evidence of catastrophic insect decline, and in particular the evidence from Germany of a 76% decline in flying insect biomass in the 26 year period from 1989 to 2014, this decision should be welcome.  There is abundant evidence from lab and field studies that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees, and a growing body of evidence linking them to declines of butterflies, aquatic insects and insect-eating birds.  The EU decision is a logical one, based on a major review of the evidence by EFSA (spanning 1,500 scientific studies), and earlier reviews of the impacts of neonics published by the European Academy of Sciences (2015).

“However, if these neonicotinoids are simply replaced by other similar compounds such as sulfoxaflor, cyantraniliprole and flupyradifurone (all new systemic insecticides), then we will simply be going round in circles.  What is needed is a move towards truly sustainable farming methods that minimise pesticide use, encourage natural enemies of crop pests, and support biodiversity and healthy soils.

“We should also be aware that neonicotinoids are far from the only problem facing bees and other insects.  They are also having to cope with accidentally imported parasites and diseases, a lack of flowers and nesting habitat, and exposure to a blizzard of other chemicals.  Banning neonicotinoids is a step in the right direction, but we have a very long way to go if we are to halt insect declines.”


Dr Christopher Connolly, Reader in Neurobiology, University of Dundee, said:

“The EU extension of the ban on the three neonicotinoid to all outdoor uses is excellent news.  This is testament to the importance of EFSA in protecting our environment, the value of independent scientific scrutiny and the efforts of Friends of the Earth, Buglife and Greenpeace.

“It is important to remember that neonicotinoids have been used freely in the EU for 25 years prior to this ban.  It is time we were proactive in gaining independent evidence on pesticide safety before they are released into the environment.  For example, there are new chemicals that act at the same receptor target sites but are not called neonicotinoids.  Therefore, these will not be restricted until sufficient evidence is gained.

“Despite this important success, our industrialised agricultural landscape remains a chemical jungle where the existence of potential toxic cocktails may threaten human health and environmental stability.”




All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


Declared interests

Dr Bill Parker: “I have worked in applied research and advice in crop protection for over 30 years, starting life as an Advisory Entomologist with the then government agricultural advisory service, ADAS in 1984.  I worked for ADAS for 25 years, both before and after its privatisation, which involved a great deal of direct contact with farmers, growers and the broader industry supply trade. During my time in ADAS I particularly developed expertise in the management of field vegetable and potato pests via Integrated Pest Management (IPM) systems, as well as broader issues such as insecticide resistance. For the last 9 years I have worked for AHDB, mainly involved in directing and developing applied research programmes, initially in horticulture but my current brief covers directing the entire  AHDB applied research programme encompassing crops and livestock.  I am passionate about getting science into practice!”

Prof Nigel Raine: “I do not have any interests which might be regarded by a reasonable and objective third party as giving rise to a conflict with my role as an SMC expert in this story.”

Prof Ian Toth: “Professor Toth’s research is funded by the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme, and he is also director of Scotland’s newly launched Plant Health Centre – see for more info.”

Prof Dave Goulson: “I have no interests to declare.”

Dr Christopher Connolly: “No conflicts of interest.”


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