A neonic that’s bad news for birds

Here in Europe, three insect-killing neonicotinoids are under a temporary ban. One of the banned neonics is called imidacloprid. Six months into the neonic ban, here’s new science about imidacloprid and insect-eating birds in the Netherlands.

The chemical and biotech giant Bayer Cropscience makes imidacloprid. Bayer gave info to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) about this particular product when it was licenced in 2009 for use on crops including tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), apples (Malus domestica) and sugar beet (Beta vulgaris subspp vulgaris). For follow-up discussions in 2011, Bayer gave info relevant to ‘risk assessment for operators and workers’ and ‘risk to birds and mammals.’ Now, EFSA has been reviewing the evidence about imidacloprid. Here’s the EFSA report published at the start of July 2014. It’s wordy! I’ll pick out some of the words about birds.

‘[R]isk assessments for… use on apple indicated a low risk to birds (including insectivorous birds)… two applications were considered separately… result[ing] in some uncertainty (imidacloprid is known as persistent and mobile in plants)…

‘A low risk was also identified for birds consuming pelleted sugar beet seeds [and for] birds consuming sugar beet seedlings… EFSA could not agree with some of the aspects considered in [some German] assessments, in particular with the approach for the estimation of the residues in insects.’

That was on 2nd July this month. A week later, along came this Dutch report about imidacloprid and insect-eating birds. According to this new science, it’s not good enough to test for acute bird poisoning. Imidacloprid builds up in soil, water and insects. And there aren’t so many insects when this neonic has been used. Many kinds of bird rely on insects as food.

The scientists say, ‘Our results suggest that the impact of neonicotinoids on the natural environment is even more substantial than has recently been reported and is reminiscent of the effects of persistent insecticides in the past*. Future legislation should take into account the potential cascading effects of neonicotinoids on ecosystems.’

I’m grateful to my fellow blogger at The Naturephile for drawing attention to this.

* They don’t name any particular insecticide ‘in the past’ but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that they’re thinking of DDT.

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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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