New neonic pesticide report confirms threat to bees

Press release
Tougher ban on bee-harming pesticides essential, says Friends of the Earth
  Published:  28 Feb 2018    |      3 minute read

A total ban on the outdoor use of three neonicotinoid pesticides is urgently needed, Friends of the Earth said, after  a major new report  published today (28 February) concluded that most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides represent a risk to wild bees and honeybees.

Friends of the Earth bee campaigner Sandra Bell said:

“This long awaited report confirms the significant threat these neonicotinoid pesticides pose to our bees. 

“We have been playing Russian Roulette with the future of our bees for far too long.

“The UK government has already said it will support a complete ban on the outdoor use of these three bee-harming chemicals – a move that is fully justified by this report. Other EU countries must now back a tougher ban too.

“Ministers must also use their post-Brexit farming policy to help our farmers to work in harmony with nature – and not against it. This must include a reduction in the use of all pesticides and a regulatory process that prevents bee-harming chemicals being approved.”


The European Food Safety Authority’s much-awaited assessment of the highly controversial pesticides, reviews the scientific evidence since the ban was introduced in 2013.  The evidence shows that:

  • Overall, use of the three neonicotinoid pesticides (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) on outdoor crops represents a risk to wild bees and honeybees.
  • In many cases bees foraging on treated crops in the field are likely to be exposed to harmful levels of the neonicotinoid pesticides.
  • Bees are also at risk because neonicotinoids can drift as dust or remain in the soil so the chemical can turn up in the pollen or nectar of flowering plants in the vicinity or succeeding crops in the rotation.  EFSA concluded that bees could be exposed to harmful levels of neonicotinoids pesticides through this route.

Farmers in the UK have already shown that they can farm without neonicotinoids with some major rapeseed oil producers pledging to stay neonic-free with or without a ban. 

Friends of the Earth is part of a coalition of over 80 NGOs across the EU, including beekeeping groups, calling for a complete ban on bee-harming neonicotinoids.


Notes to editors: 

1.   Other independent studies also back the need for a ban including the largest field trial on neonicotinoids conducted by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) which round harm to honey bees and bumble bees.

2.  Since the ban came into place on flowering crops in 2013 warnings that it would be a disaster for farming have proved unfounded.  Oil seed rape yields in the UK since the ban was introduced have not gone down compared to pre-ban levels, and have largely stayed above the 10 year average (3.4t/ha). In 2017 oilseed rape yield was one of the highest in the last 10 years and significantly higher than in 2013 when neonics were still widely used on the crop.

3.  Since December 2013 three neonicotinoid pesticides - imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam – have been banned for use on crops attractive to bees. The restrictions were imposed after a previous report by EFSA concluded that they posed a "high acute risk" to honey bees. 
4.   The European Commission has proposed a ban on all outdoor crops.  EU Member States could vote on the proposal as early as 22 March - which would mean more major crops such as wheat being covered by the ban.

5.   Michael Gove, the UK secretary of state for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has already said the UK will support tougher restrictions, saying:  “The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100bn food industry, is greater than previously understood. I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk.”

6.   It is not just bees that are at risk from the use of neonicotinoids. Studies have shown risks to birds, butterflies and earthworms. Recent data showed that British rivers are contaminated with neonicotinoid pesticides putting aquatic life at risk too.
6.   On Tuesday (27 Feb) the UK Government published a consultation on its proposals for farming policy post-Brexit. Friends of the Earth says this must include ambitious targets to reduce all pesticide use in order to protect our pollinators and other wildlife.

7.   Friends of the Earth’s Great British Bee Count will take place again this year (17 May until 30 June).