Pesticide Impact On Bees Proves Need For Robust Science

Alyn Smith MEP, Scottish full member of the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, has welcomed the admission by the European Food Safety Authority that toxic pesticides such as neonicotinoids may well have an adverse effect on the health of honeybees. 

Alyn has reacted with alarm to the admission that the risk assessment analysis for these pesticides was inadequate, and called for further urgent research.

EFSA have commented following the publication of two behavioural study reports in the journal Science showing that low levels of neonicotinoid pesticides can significantly affect bee colonies. One chemical led to a dramatic decline in bumble bee queens, and another interfered with the ability of honey bee foragers to find their way back to the hive. The recent dramatic decline in bee numbers, known as colony collapse disorder, has been attributed to a number of factors, including pesticide use, and these studies provide important evidence putting neonicotinoids in the frame. Bees pollinate 90% of the world's commercial plants. More than 240 million acres of crops in America are treated with neonicotinoids.

EFSA have also reviewed their risk assessment procedures for the effects on bee health of pesticides and insecticides, and have proposed a major overhaul. Existing tests do not consider the exposure of bees to low doses of pesticide over a long period, so toxicity testing should be extended over a prolonged period of time. In addition, recommendations have been made to improve laboratory, semi-field and field testing procedures. According to EFSA, "several exposure routes (intermittent and prolonged exposure of adult bees, exposure through inhalation and the exposure of larvae) are not currently evaluated in laboratory tests, and the effects of "sub-lethal" doses of pesticides are not covered fully."

Alyn said:

"This news vindicates what we in the European Parliament have been saying for some time: that there is a clear prima facie case that the worrying decline in bee numbers is, at least in part, caused by toxic chemicals sprayed on fields. Even more worryingly, European authorities have been lax in acknowledging the possibility and stress testing their risk assessment procedures.

"While these two studies clearly need to be followed up with more research, they provide useful evidence, and serious questions need to be asked about how such pesticides were allowed on the market without proper analysis of their long term effects on bee populations.

"We need tough pre-authorisation procedures which assess every eventuality for animal health and the environment, and we will be monitoring EFSA's actions carefully to ensure that their assessments are properly reformed."