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Neonicotinoid Insecticides: A Justified Ban

This video documents the history of neonicotinoids, since they were first licensed in the 1990s until they were partially suspended by the European Commission in 2013. Neonicotinoid insecticides are often portrayed as “good for the environment” because they are applied ‘locally’: pesticide-coatings on seeds; injected directly into tree-trunks; granules mixed into soil, etc. In reality, neonicotinoids are used in huge quantities and spread in our entire environment, having devastating impacts on bees, pollinators and wild life.

Neonicotinoids are applied as a preventive ‘insurance’, even when there is no pest-threat present at all. They are automatically applied to billions of commercialized seeds, sown on millions of hectares of land. The vast quantities of neonicotinoids used in the fields put entire ecosystems at risk, due to their:

- Systemicity: a ‘systemic’ insecticide does not remain ‘outside’ the plant; instead, it is absorbed into the entire cellular structure, permeating: roots, stem, sap, leaves, flowers, fruit or grain. This makes the entire plant toxic to insects for its entire life in the field. Bees are directly exposed to these insecticides when they gather contaminated nectar and pollen from crops; they are also confronted to contaminated soil, air and water. Finally, they are also exposed via the follow-on crops or wild flowers, in later years, which, absorb the pesticide left behind from soil or water, and then become toxic to bees in their turn.

- Long persistence in soil (up to 4 years).

- High Solubility in water - enabling their migration to other areas and contamination of water sources

- Large spectrum they affect pests and beneficial insects like bees or ladybirds.

Bees exposed to infinitesimal doses of these insecticides, display abnormal behaviour: they tremble or stagger; they are unable to navigate or fly back to the hive; they stop gathering pollen and nectar, become listless and eventually die alone, out in the fields. These insecticides affect the bees glands, from which they normally secrete royal jelly for the bee-larvae and queen. The fertility is also crippled.

In December 2013, several neonicotinoid insecticides (Imidacloprid, Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam) were partially suspended from the European market, for two years. Fipronil, an insecticide with similar characteristics than neonicotinoids, was also suspended. At a local level, some cities, have also banned these of neonicotinoids around the world (Seattle, Harvard University campus,…).

However, in Europe, neonicotinoids can still be legally used in commercial greenhouses and on crops, which do not normally attract bees, such as wheat and potatoes. Moreover, two other neonicotinoids, Thiacloprid and Acetamiprid, remain unrestricted in Europe. Recently, a study reviewing more than 800 papers shows that the impact of systemic insecticides is not only restricted to bees, but to a very large number of species. Why can we not have a complete ban of neonicotinoids?

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