Real impact of neonicotinoid seed dressings stays buried

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.


About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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8 Responses to Real impact of neonicotinoid seed dressings stays buried

  1. Argylesock,
    At least in Europe there is a partial ban. One can only guess why the regulators allow the chemicals for part of the year – maybe someone got some money under the table to help companies sell unused neonicotinoid inventories. Nothing done in America but warning labels as far as I know. What is your view on GMOs in relation to the crisis/tension in Ukraine?

    • argylesock says:

      To tell the truth, I’ve no idea about GMOs in Ukraine. What’s your opinion?

      • Seeing Ukraine is considered the “breadbasket of Europe” because of its huge farmlands, it wouldn’t surprise if genetic-food companies like Monsanto have had a say on the events there. Russia has a total ban on GMOs in the works, evidently China no longer imports any GMO foods, so it seemed reasonable to ask you for your view. It’s an interesting coincidence that in the past few days a piece on Percy Schmeiser (Percy Schmeiser: Octogenarian Warrior for Future Generations) has gotten around 700 views. None of those who viewed the post commented, so I have no idea where these viewers came from. After a year of blogging that post set a record, no other post has received anywhere close to that number. Anyway, I believe GMOs should be banned from the Earth. 🙂 Nice to meet you.

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