A temporary European ban on three insect-killing chemicals called neonicotinoids has been in force since December 2013. These neonics are called clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. They’re used as seed dressings and soil treatments, among other things.
Just after this ban came into force, Peter Crosskey at the Agricultural and Rural Convention reminded us that the neonic ban allows exemptions for certain crops which weren’t considered a likely risk to bees and other pollinators. That is, for crops sown in autumn when pollinating insects aren’t active.
The ban says, ‘Uses as seed treatment or soil treatment shall not be authorised for the following cereals, when such cereals are sown from January to June: barley, millet, oats, rice, rye, sorghum, triticale, wheat.’*
In other words, European farmers can use neonics between July and December. Oh that’s all right then. Mr Crosskey points out that neonics persist in soil, with half-lives (the time it takes for half to degrade) 200 days or more. From the soil, active neonics can leak into watercourses. Oops.
Mr Crosskey says, ‘So while careful product management can account for up to 4% of the seed dressing, some 96% of the active ingredient is still lurking underground. Here, it is out of sight and out of mind until it starts to find its way back. Whoever blindsided the European Commission into the winter cereals exemption overlooked this fact. Or never thought about it.’
* Here are the Latin names for the crops exempted from the neonic ban, if autumn-sown.
Barley is Hordeum vulgare.
Millets are a huge group of crops. I think that by ‘millet’, these lawmakers probably mean foxtail millet (Setaria italica, formerly called Panicum italicum L.) and pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum).
Oats are Avena sativa.
Rice is Oryza sativa.
Rye is Secale cereale.
Sorghum is Sorghum bicolor.
Triticale is a hybrid between wheat and rye, called × Triticosecale.
Wheat is Triticum spp.