Bees and neonicotinoids - the problem | Friends of the Earth (2022)

Find out how the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in growing our crops is contributing to thedecline of wild bees.

Since 1900 we've lost around 13 species of bee in the UK alone - and a further 35 are at risk. A number of factors are responsible for the decline of bees. Find out why bees and neonicotinoids are such a controversial topic and what part pesticides play in the decline of our bee populations.

From bumblebees to solitary bees, we rely on each species to help pollinate our plants and crops.

But bees are in trouble. Loss of habitat and climate change are key factors. But pesticides are thought to be playing a huge part in the critical decline of our bee populations. And there's overwhelming evidence that a particular type of pesticide - known as neonicotinoids or neonics - is doing a lot of damage.

How neonics affect bees

Neonics are systemic pesticides used on plants. This means they are absorbed into every part of a plant – from the roots and stem, to leaves and flowers. When a bee feeds on pollen or nectar containing these chemicals, the neonic can damage its nervous system and motor function. This will affect the bee's feeding, navigation, foraging and reproduction.

Impacts of neonics on wildlife and the wider environment

New evidence shows that these pesticides aren’t only found on the crops they’re intended for. High levels of neonics are being detected on wildflowers and hedgerows around fields of treated crops. And this means the bees can’t escape them.

Other wildlife is also at risk. For example, it’s been shown that neonic seed treatments are washed off by rain and contaminate soils and water. Neonics have been found to affect earthworms, which are essential for keeping our soil healthy.

(Video) Dave Goulson discusses his interest in bees and neonicotinoids with FOE Canada

Neonics and the EU ban

In 2013 three of these pesticides were restricted across the EU following a vote of European member states. The UK vigorously opposed the move, despite the scientific evidence that these chemicals posed a “high acute risk” to honeybees.

Since then stronger evidence linking neonicotinoids with bee decline – and the decline of other wildlife – has emerged. And the European Commission is now proposing that the restrictions be extended to all outdoor crops.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced UK support for a neonicotinoid ban, recognising that the science is stacking up against them.

The extension to all crops is needed because evidence now shows that neonicotinoids contaminate the environment and can end up in wildflowers or water.

The EU will hold a vote on whether to strengthen the ban in the light of new research. Following Michael Gove’s announcement we expect the UK to vote for the tougher restrictions then keep them in place after we leave the EU.

A recent survey found that 81% of the British public want the government to maintain the EU ban on bee-harming pesticides.

As the UK heads for Brexit, we’ll be pushing our government to commit to tough environmental legislation to protect wildlife - and not to give in to pesticide industry lobbying.

(Video) Dave Goulson discusses the systemic quality of Neonicotinoids

Reasons for a ban on neonics

1. Neonics harm bees (and other wildlife)

Compelling scientific evidence includes research from both laboratory studies and field trials, such as:

  • In June 2014 a global study involving 29 scientists and over 1,000 papers by the Global Task Force on Systemic Pesticides concluded that neonics “are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees”.
  • In April 2015, the highly respected European Academies Science Advisory Council (PDF) said there is clear scientific evidence for sub-lethal effects on bees and other pollinators exposed to very low levels of neonicotinoids over extended periods.
  • A study by Newcastle University, published in April 2015, found that bees preferred to feed on solutions containing neonics. It concluded that treating flowering crops with commonly used neonics “presents a sizeable hazard to foraging bees”.
  • Field trials in Sweden found the use of neonics-treated seeds “has negative effects on wild bees, with potential negative effects on populations".
  • In 2016 the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology published an 18-year study that showed a correlation between neonic use and the decline of wild bees.
  • Evidence is growing that neonics may also be affecting butterflies. Evidence includes a study by the University of Stirling which showed that the decline of 15 out of 17 butterfly species monitored correlated with neonic use.
Bees and neonicotinoids - the problem | Friends of the Earth (1)

2. Bees are being exposed to more neonics than previously thought

A wildflower study found that flowers like poppies growing next to fields of crops treated with neonics contain high levels of these pesticides. Poppies and other wildflowers are an important source of food for bees.

Meanwhile research from Canada found that neonics remain much longer than expected in soil dust, and that the dust is dispersed widely, potentially increasing bees' exposure to them.

In 2016 the European Food Safety Authority concluded that there is a high risk to bees exposed to the neonicotinoid clothianidin via dust drift when treated cereal crops like wheat are sown. There is also a high risk from exposure via flowering crops grown after a treated crop such as winter wheat. This is because of the persistence of the chemical in the soil.

Research is showing neonics remain in the environment and are found a long way from where they were used. So there is now a strong case to extend existing restrictions - which only apply to some crops like oilseed rape - to all crops such as wheat.

(Video) Bayer and the bees | DW Documentary

Bees and neonicotinoids - the problem | Friends of the Earth (2)

3. There is a lack of evidence that neonics help farmers

The National Farmers Union (NFU) says there are crop losses due to damage from cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB), resulting from the restrictions on neonicotinoids.

The NFU persuaded the government to allow oilseed rape treated with 2 of the restricted pesticides to be planted in parts of the country in 2015. But when it tried to do the same in 2016 the government rejected the application, keeping our oilseed rape fields free of the banned pesticides.

In fact, when neonics could not be used - in 2015 - yields for oilseed rape were higher than in 2014 and above the 10-year average. Although yields in 2016 were looking to be below the 5-year average, this was due to a number of factors including weather, with loss to pests being only one.

Some farmers will have suffered crop losses because of pests, but these could have happened even with neonic-treated seeds. In fact, one study found no consistent benefit on crop yield from using treated seeds.

What we do have evidence for is that insect pollination enhances oilseed rape yields - and has also been found to increase the value of 2 British apple varieties by £37m a year.

Now new research suggests that neonics could be damaging food production. Apples pollinated by bumblebees exposed to neonics were lower quality than neonic-free bumblebees

(Video) Vega supports the Bee Cause Campaign

We found that bees exposed to pesticides returned from apple flowers with less pollen than bees in the control group. This suggests that bumblebees exposed to pesticides must somehow behave differently on flowers.

Dr Mike Garratt, University of Reading

4. There are alternative ways of controlling pests

The NFU says that farmers will be forced to use more of other pesticides such as pyrethroids if the neonic ban continues. It's true that some farmers have used more of these pesticides, but we believe there is no need to.

Research for Friends of the Earth found that there are effective non-chemical means of control, such as encouraging natural predators that eat the pests. Measures to help natural predators can be good for pollinators too. This includes things such as planting wildflower margins and hedgerows.

Pesticide use can also be reduced if crops are carefully monitored for pests before a decision is taken to use a chemical. If sprays are only used as a last resort the pests are less likely to develop resistance too.

Friends of the Earth has talked to farmers who grow oilseed rape without neonics. Farmers need more support from the government and the farming industry to develop other promising methods of pest control. Approaches could include companion cropping, which may help draw pests away from the crop.

Friends of the Earth continues to campaign and put pressure on the government to safeguard and extend the restrictions on the use of these deadly pesticides.

(Video) Dave Goulson - Impacts Neonicotinoids have on yield

Make a difference for bees today

Get involved in our campaign calling on a complete ban on the bee-harming pesticides, neonicotinoids. For over three years there has been a Europe-wide ban, but this only applies to crops attractive to pollinators – it doesn’t cover crops like wheat.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has announced that tougher restrictions are needed on neonicotinoids. He recognises that the science is stacking up against these bee-harming pesticides and that farmers are farming successfully without them.

Michael Gove will be taking part in an EU vote on banning neonicotinoids soon. Let him know you support tougher restrictions too.


Why are neonicotinoids a problem to bees? ›

How neonics affect bees. Neonics are systemic pesticides used on plants. This means they are absorbed into every part of a plant – from the roots and stem, to leaves and flowers. When a bee feeds on pollen or nectar containing these chemicals, the neonic can damage its nervous system and motor function.

Are neonicotinoids toxic to bees? ›

Neonicotinoids are a group of insecticides used widely on farms and in urban landscapes. They are absorbed by plants and can be present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to bees.

What do neonicotinoids do to humans? ›

Studies of unintentional human exposures – Developmental or neurological effects of neonics may include malformations of the developing heart and brain, autism spectrum disorder, and a cluster of symptoms including memory loss and finger tremors (Cimino et al, 2017).

How do neonicotinoids affect the environment? ›

Aquatic Insects

Beyond pollinators, neonicotinoids are known to negatively impact aquatic ecosystems, especially nontarget aquatic invertebrate communities. The potential for neonicotinoid toxicity (acute and/or chronic) toward aquatic arthropods varies greatly.

Does Walmart use neonicotinoids? ›

Walmart has also eliminated neonicotinoids in almost all its off-the-shelf gardening products.

Is Roundup a neonicotinoid? ›

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the herbicide commonly known as Roundup and acetamiprid is a neonicotinoid.

What is killing bees 2022? ›

The plight of bees is well documented, with habitat destruction, pesticide use and climate change all contributing to their decline. Nearly 1 in 10 wild bee populations across Europe are facing extinction, according to environmental charity Friends of the Earth.

Does Lowe's use neonicotinoids? ›

Already, Lowe's is removing neonicotinoid products from its live plant offerings and store shelves, and Home Depot is eliminating use of neonicotinoids in its live plant offerings.

What is the most harmful pesticide to bees? ›

One group of insecticides which is highly toxic to honey bees cannot be applied to blooming crops when bees are present without causing serious injury to colonies. Among the materials in this high-risk category are diazinon, Imidan, malathion and Sevin.

Does America use neonicotinoids? ›

Neonicotinoids, which are banned in the European Union, are the most popular insecticides in the United States. Hundreds of studies have shown they play a major role in population-level declines of bees, birds, butterflies and freshwater invertebrates.

Are neonicotinoids found in water? ›

Because of their chemical properties and widespread usage, neonicotinoids are commonly measured in surface waters across North America. Recently, neonicotinoids have been discovered in drinking water.

Why do farmers use neonicotinoids? ›

They provide a unique mode of action, necessary to manage pests resistant to other insecticides. Neonicotinoids selectively control insect pests, while ensuring beneficial insects remain available to keep other potential insect pests in check.

What are the dangers of neonicotinoid pesticides? ›

Neonics are neurotoxic insecticides. They permanently bind to insect nerve cells, overstimulating and destroying them—commonly causing uncontrollable shaking or twitching, paralysis, and (eventually) death. Neonics bind to nicotinic acetylcholine (nACh) receptors, so called because they are activated by nicotine.

How long do neonicotinoids stay in soil? ›

ӧ Neonicotinoids can persist in soil for months or years after a single application. Residues have been found in woody plants up to six years after soil drench application.

Why are neonicotinoids banned in Europe? ›

The European Commission last year proposed extending the ban of three neonicotinoids—clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam—to all field crops, because of growing evidence that the pesticides can harm domesticated honey bees and also wild pollinators.

Does Costco use neonicotinoids? ›

Costco no longer sells products containing neonicotinoids in its U.S. locations or products containing glyphosate in any store locations worldwide.

Does Miracle Gro neonicotinoids? ›

Ortho, part of the Miracle-Gro family, says the decision to drop the use of the chemicals — called neonicotinoids, or neonics for short — comes after considering the range of possible threats to bees and other pollinators.

What product is Walmart pulling from its shelves? ›

The recalled products include breakfast ovals, brownie bites, soft-baked cookies and fruit, and chew bars with “Best By dates between 9/24/2022 and 3/13/2023. According to a statement from the company, "Enjoy Life Natural Brands initiated the recall as a result of internal quality assurance surveillance.”

What products contain neonicotinoid pesticides? ›

Neonicotinoid Insecticides

Neonicotinoids—now the most widely used insecticides—are found in hundreds of products including insect sprays, seed treatments, soil drenches, tree injections, and veterinary ointments to control fleas in dogs and cats.

What are the symptoms of neonicotinoid poisoning? ›

Common symptoms of self-poisoning described are dizziness, hypertension, tachycardia, nausea, vomiting, eye irritation, dermatitis, and oral mucosal lesions. Mortality due to poisoning is less than 3%.

When did farmers start using neonicotinoids? ›

Neonicotinoid pesticides were first introduced in the mid-1990s, and since then, their use has grown rapidly. They are now the most widely used class of insecticides in the world, with the majority of applications coming from seed dressings.

Would the world end if bees went extinct? ›

If all bees died it may not be a total extinction event for humans, but it would be a disaster for our planet. We would see a domino-like effect as many plants started to just disappear one by one, and all animal species would start to struggle to find food.

Which US states have banned neonicotinoids? ›

Neonicotinoids are banned in Europe, parts of Canada, and a few states in the U.S. such as Maine and New Jersey.

Why will the world end if bees go extinct? ›

Without bees, the availability and diversity of fresh produce would decline substantially, and human nutrition would likely suffer. Crops that would not be cost-effective to hand- or robot-pollinate would likely be lost or persist only with the dedication of human hobbyists.

How do you know if plants have been treated with neonicotinoids? ›

Neonicotinoids in the retail trade

Perhaps the best way for home gardeners to know whether ornamental plants they purchase at retail garden centers or big box stores have been treated with neonicotinoids is to ask the staff or look at the plant labels.

Do neonicotinoids absorb into the plant? ›

The impact of this class of insecticides on pollinating insects is a cause for concern. Because they are systemic chemicals absorbed into the plant, neonicotinoids can be present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to pollinators that feed on them.

Do proven winners use neonicotinoids? ›

No, we do not use Neonicotinoids. We mainly use biocontrols to combat pests on our plants. We do use pesticides occasionally to ensure you receive a healthy plant with no harmful bugs. The pesticides we do use are Neonicotinoid free and will not cause harm to any pollinators or humans that touch it.

What is the number 1 threat for bees? ›

The most pressing threats to long-term bee survival include: Climate change. Habitat loss and fragmentation. Invasive plants and bees.

What is the number one killer of bees? ›

Parasites and pests: Varroa mites (Varroa destructor) are essentially a modern honey bee plague. The Varroa mite has been responsible for the deaths of massive numbers of honey bee colonies since its arrival in the United States in 1987.

Are flower seeds treated with neonicotinoids? ›

Neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides that are commonly applied as seed treatments to important food crops like corn, soybeans, oilseed rape, sunflower, cereals, and beets.

What can I use instead of neonicotinoids? ›

If a neonicotinoid must be used, choose a reduced-risk option, such as acetamiprid, over active ingredients that have higher toxicity to bees (imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and clothianidin).

How many countries have banned neonicotinoids? ›

Eight EU countries are likely to have exported banned neonicotinoid pesticides since the ban – Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Greece, Austria, Denmark and Hungary – plus the UK.

Are neonicotinoids used in organic farming? ›

Organic farmers grow healthy and abundant food without the use of an estimated 900 pesticide active ingredients allowed in non-organic farming, including neonicotinoids.

Do we still use neonicotinoids? ›

By 2020, all but one neonicotinoid was no longer approved for use. However, emergency authorisations are allowed, and in January 2022, the Government authorised an emergency application in England of the use of the Cruiser SB pesticide, which contains thiamethoxam, a neonicotinoid.

What crops are neonicotinoids used on? ›

Although neonicotinoid seed treatments are used on a wide range of crop plants, including soybean, cotton, canola, wheat, sunflower, potato, and many vegetables (1,2), reported honey bee kills from neonicotinoids have most often been associated with dust from corn seed released by vacuum planters at planting time (3,4, ...

What is the most used chemical among neonicotinoids? ›

The neonicotinoid family includes acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam. Imidacloprid has been the most widely used insecticide in the world from 1999 through at least 2018.

What do neonicotinoids do to bees that kills or harms them? ›

ӧ Honey bees exposed to sublethal levels of neonicotinoids can experience problems with flight and navigation, reduced taste sensitivity, and slower learning of new tasks, all of which impact foraging ability and hive productivity.

Do neonicotinoids harm birds? ›

There are no incidents of bird poisoning resulting from the use of neonicotinoids over the last ten years. Promoting theories without the evidence to back them up is only going to damage the cause of pollinators and wildlife, and damage the public perception of science in general.”

Does Canada use neonicotinoids? ›

Neonics are used across Canada on a variety of crops, from corn and soybeans, to many different vegetables such as potatoes and herbs. They can be applied to seeds, soil or plants, and can also be used to control insects in homes and fleas on pets, as well as to protect trees from invasive insects.

What are neonicotinoids made from? ›

Neonicotinoids (also referred to as “neonics”) are insecticides derived from nicotine. They act by binding strongly to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the central nervous system of insects, causing overstimulation of their nerve cells, paralysis and death.

Are neonicotinoids synthetic pesticides? ›

Neonicotinoids are the most important new class of synthetic insecticides used in plant and animal health over the last decade to control sucking insects. The main marketed neonicotinoids are imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, clothianidin, thiacloprid, dinotefuran, acetamiprid, nitenpyram and sulfoxaflor.

How do neonicotinoids a neurotoxin affect bees? ›

Neonicotinoid insecticides are neurotoxins and work by disrupting specific protein receptors in an insect's central nervous system, which has the ultimate effect of paralysis and death of crop-destroying pests.

How do neonicotinoid pesticides cause paralysis and death of honey bees? ›

Neonicotinoids bind with high affinity to acetylcholine receptors, altering neuronal signals, which can lead to paralysis and death of the insect [36].

Are neonicotinoid pesticides causing the decline in honeybees? ›

Abstract. Neonicotinoids are widely-used pesticides implicated in the decline of bees, known to have sub-lethal effects on bees' foraging and colony performance.

What is the number one cause of death for bees? ›

Parasites and pests: Varroa mites (Varroa destructor) are essentially a modern honey bee plague. The Varroa mite has been responsible for the deaths of massive numbers of honey bee colonies since its arrival in the United States in 1987.

What are 3 things that contribute to the decline of bees? ›

These include habitat loss, climate change, toxic pesticides and disease. The interaction between these makes an unpredictable future for bees and many other pollinators. These threats have led to nearly 1 in 10 of Europe's wild bee species facing extinction.

What are the 3 4 major reasons that bee populations are in decline? ›

Bees and other pollinators are declining in abundance in many parts of the world largely due to intensive farming practices, mono-cropping, excessive use of agricultural chemicals and higher temperatures associated with climate change, affecting not only crop yields but also nutrition.

Why is the number of bees declining? ›

Bee populations are rapidly declining around the world due to habitat loss, pollution and the use of pesticides, among other factors. “These creatures are vital to what we eat and what our countryside looks like,” says Gill Perkins, chief executive of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.


1. Bee Symposium Highlights | Save The Bees - Ban Neonicotinoids | Neal's Yard Remedies
(Neal's Yard Remedies)
2. The Death Of Bees Explained – Parasites, Poison and Humans
(Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell)
3. Dave Goulson - On the toxicity of neonicotinoids
(Friends of the Earth Canada)
4. Engaged research: Are neonicotinoid pesticides a threat to bees?
(UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology)
5. Bee extinction: Why we're saving the wrong bees
(DW Planet A)
6. Neonicotinoids; an open letter from scientists to policy makers.
(Dave Goulson)

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