Thiacloprid Banned in the EU - An opportunity to surpass neonicotinoids?

Updated: Oct 31

- Français - Español - Italiano -

The European Union banned Thiacloprid, a neonicotinoid-family insecticide whose impact on bees has been widely debated in the last few years. Nevertheless, the main reasons for its ban have gone beyond the protection of bees or the environment. The principal argument comes from the conclusions provided by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA): Thiacloprid is suspected to damage human fertility and the unborn child, as well as a suspected carcinogenic.

On October 22, the Standing Committee on Plants, Animal, Food and Feed (SCoPAFF) of the European Commission decided not to renew the authorisation of Thiacloprid. The ongoing authorisation will expire in April 2020.

This ban marks a new chapter in the prohibition of several dangerous neonicotinoid insecticides. Earlier, in 2018, the EU had already banned the open air use of three highly controversial substances, clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam [1]. After their ban, the Commission listed Thiacloprid as a candidate for substitution, but new conclusions by the EFSA led towards a different direction.

The risks of Thiacloprid were already under discussion several years ago. BeeLife had already denounced the risks of the substance and even called for a ban of all neonicotinoids. But after partial or total bans of other neonicotinoids, Thiacloprid remained untouched, which led towards significant doubts of coherence in public decisions. It was particularly troubling because some studies revealed that its risks were more serious. A significant finding over four years ago was the 'cocktail' effect, which comes from exposure to the substance along with other synthetic products that may be present in the field, such as fungicides. As a result, even though Thiacloprid is said to be tolerated by bees, laboratory tests showed that antifungal agents from the group of the azole fungicides could block detoxification mechanisms, thus increasing the bee-toxicity of thiacloprid between 100 to 1000 times [2].

Earlier in 2019, EFSA presented its conclusion on the effects of Thiacloprid on human and bee health [3]. First, regarding bees, it states that the "delayed effects or relevant sub-lethal effects on bees at relatively low concentrations cannot be excluded". The authority remarks, however, that it did not perform a full bee risk assessment according to the 2013 EFSA Bee Guidance Document [4], which includes the state-of-the-art methodology (Read also A New Chance to Adopt the EFSA Bee Guidance Document).

On the other hand, EFSA concluded that Thiacloprid presents important risks for human health. Thiacloprid presents risks for fertility and prenatal development, formally classified as "Repro 1B, H360FD ('May damage fertility. Suspected of damaging the unborn child.')". Besides, it also has risks as a carcinogenic, classified as "Carc. 2 H351 ('Suspected of causing cancer')".

BeeLife celebrates this new ban, particularly in the hopes that political discourse and public policy align towards safer practices in the field. However, further protection is required. Thiacloprid is not the only troubling substance currently available in the market. Other so-called neonicotinoid alternatives, such as sulfoxaflor, continue to affect bees and the environment. This substance, for example, was already assessed by EFSA, stating that high risks to bees could not be excluded [5].

President of BeeLife, Francesco Panella, stated that "the case of thiacloprid, as well as others that have not been resolved, such as chlorpyrifos, continue to highlight the unacceptable inadequacy of risk analysis procedures. Following this ban and the European Parliament's recent position to support better protection for bees and pollinators, the call for Member States and the European Commission to finally adopt and implement the guidelines proposed by EFSA in 2013 becomes stronges. The aim is to achieve a real strengthening of the precautionary procedures that precede any authorization of a biocidal active substance".

This new ban further drives the question of the high risks of neonicotinoids. Whether through existing approval or continuously renewed emergency authorisations, other substances of the neonicotinoid family will need to be reassessed, thus casting a new light on their risks for humans, bees and the environment.

NOTE TO EDITORS: BeeLife European Beekeeping Coordination is an association formed by beekeepers from different countries of the European Union. It works for the protection of bees, pollinators and biodiversity, based on the principle that 'bees serve as the canary in the gold mine, sounding the alarm that something is wrong in the environment'. BeeLife is currently a member of the Save the Bees Coalition, a registered stakeholder in the EU Bee Partnership, and a partner in the European-funded project, the Internet of Bees.

[1] BeeLife, 2018, Nenoicotinoids Banned to all Open-Air Uses in the EU, recovered from https://www.bee-life.eu/post/2018/04/27/Nenoicotinoids-Banned-to-all-Open-Air-Uses-in-the-EU

[2] BeeLife, 2015, Pesticide cocktails found in puddles on Austrian farmland endanger bees, recovered from https://www.bee-life.eu/post/2015/06/23/Pesticide-cocktails-found-in-puddles-on-Austrian-farmland-endanger-bees

[3] EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), Abdourahime, H, et al., 2019. Conclusion on the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment of the active substance thiacloprid. EFSA Journal 2019;17(2):5595, 32 pp. https://doi.org/10.2903/j.efsa.2019.5595

[4] EFSA, 2013, EFSA Guidance Document on the risk assessment of plant protection products on bees (Apis mellifera, Bombus spp. and solitary bees). EFSA Journal, 11(7), 3295.

[5] EFSA, 2015, Conclusion on the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment of the active substance sulfoxaflor, recovered from http://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.2903/j.efsa.2014.3692