Some facts about neonicotinoids
- Neonicotinoids are active substances used in plant protection products to control harmful insects, which means they are insecticides
- The name literally means "new nicotine-like insecticides". They are chemically similar to nicotine
- The name neonicotinoids is sometimes shortened to "neonics" or "NNIs"
- The first neonic was approved in the EU in 2005
- Neonics are systemic pesticides. Unlike contact pesticides, which remain on the surface of the treated leaves, systemic pesticides are taken up by the plant and transported throughout the plant (leaves, flowers, roots and stems, as well as pollen and nectar)
- Neonics are much more toxic to invertebrates, like insects, than they are to mammals, birds and other higher organisms
- Neonics affect the central nervous system of insects, leading to eventual paralysis and death
- They are also common in veterinary applications such as tick control and flea collars for pets
Current status of the neonicotinoids in the EU
Five neonicotinoid insecticides are approved as active substances in the EU for the use in plant protection products, namely clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, acetamiprid and thiacloprid.
The Commission closely monitors the possible relations between bee health and pesticides and is determined to take the most cautious approach possible to protect bees.
In 2013, the Commission severely restricted the use of plant protection products and treated seeds containing three of these neonicotinoids (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) to protect honeybees (see Regulation (EU) No 485/2013).
The measure was based on a risk assessment of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2012. It prohibits the use of these three neonicotinoids in bee-attractive crops (including maize, oilseed rape and sunflower) with the exception of uses in greenhouses, of treatment of some crops after flowering and of winter cereals. At the same time, the applicants of the three substances were obliged to provide further data (so-called "confirmatory information") for each of their substances in order to confirm the safety of the uses still allowed.
Following the assessment of this confirmatory information by EFSA of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, the currently still possible outdoor usage can no longer be considered safe due to the identified risks to bees.
EFSA has evaluated data collected in an open call for the review of the 2013 restrictions for the above-mentioned neonicotinoids as foreseen in Regulation (EU) No 485/2013. The deadline for this evaluation was postponed to February 2018 due to the amount of data to be assessed, the complexity of the request and to give Member States experts sufficient opportunity to comment on EFSA's draft conclusions. The EFSA Conclusions on the risk assessment for the active substances clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam were published on the EFSA website on 28 February 2018. The Commission and the Member States will examine these conclusions thoroughly and depending on the outcome of this analysis, the Commission may propose to further modify the conditions of approval of these neonicotinoids.
For another neonicotinoid, acetamiprid, EFSA established a low risk to bees. A ban or further restrictions of this substance is therefore neither scientifically nor legally appropriate. A draft Regulation proposing a renewal of approval has been presented to the Member States on 5-6 October 2017. The proposal was further discussed and presented to the Member States for opinion in the Regulatory Committee on 12 and 13 December 2017. The Committee gave a favourable opinion on the draft Regulation with a qualified majority of Member States.
The renewal regulation has been published in the Official European Journal and Acetamiprid has been renewed until 28 February 2033.
A fifth neonicotinoid, thiacloprid is a candidate for substitution, based on its endocrine disrupting properties. Candidates for substitution are pesticides for which national authorities need to carry out an assessment to establish whether more favorable alternatives to using the plant protection product exist, including non-chemical methods. The current approval expires on 4 April 2018. A procedure to renew the approval of thiacloprid (under Regulation (EU) No 844/2012) is ongoing. The public consultation on the Renewal Assessment Report (RAR) is expected to be launched by the EFSA on 15 December 2017.
Current proposals prepared by the Commission services to the Member States
Discussions with Member States on the proposals to further restrict the uses for clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam are currently ongoing.
For the time being, a full ban of the use of the three neonicotinoids is not justified, because there is no risk to bees for all uses where the plants are treated in a permanent greenhouse and remain there during the whole lifecycle. See proposals below.
Proposals prepared by the Commission services
13 December 2017: a vote was envisaged but was finally postponed for several reasons, including diverging views between Member States and the request from many of them to await the EFSA reports on the evaluation of the data collected in an open call for the review of the 2013 measures (see above) which were expected by mid February 2018. During a commenting round 11 Member States indicated their support, 11 Member States did not have a position and 6 Member States expressed comments against the current drafts.
22/23 March 2018: EFSA presented the reports (published on 28 February 2018) on the updated risk assessment for imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. Several Member States indicated the importance of these substances for certain crops, in particular sugar beet and asked whether it would be possible in principle that risk mitigation measures for succeeding crops could lead to low or no risk to pollinators. EFSA stated that while this might be possible at Member States level, the validated data available so far did not allow to conclude this. The Commission announced to maintain its proposals (apart from updating some recitals to reflect the adoption of the reports by EFSA). Four Member States indicated support for the proposed further restrictions. Two Member States opposed the further restrictions. The other Member States did not have a position yet or were not represented.
27 April 2018: Member States endorsed the Commission's proposals to completely ban the outdoor uses of the three active substances (see "Proposals prepared by the Commission services" above). The Commission will adopt the Regulations in the coming weeks.