Neonicotinoids use and honey bees

The Issue

There have been a number of studies discussed in the media that have found chemical residues present in honey and suggest a link between the use of neonicotinoids and declining health of honey bees.  

Unlike some other countries, Australian honey bee populations are not in decline and Australia has robust regulatory and surveillance measures to monitor this issue.

The APVMA will continue to monitor and assess new information and credible scientific reports as they become available. At this stage, the APVMA is not planning to review the use of neonicotinoids in Australia. 

European Union (EU) restriction on three neonicotinoid chemical compounds

On 27 April 2018, the EU Commission voted to restrict the use of three neonicotinoid compounds (imidacloprid, clothiandin and thiamethoxam) to only be used on plants and seeds grown in greenhouses. This is likely to be legislated by the end of 2018.

This decision was based on concerns that neonicotinoids may be contributing to a decline in Europe’s honey bee population. This is a complex issue that involves the interaction of many factors in addition to pesticide use, such as nutrition, environment and disease, that are not of concern to Australia’s bee population.

The available information for Australia indicates that managed and wild honey bee populations are not in decline (Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Vol. 36, No. 1, January 2017).

At this point in time the APVMA will not initiate a review into neonicotinoids used in Australia. However, we understand the important role that bee’s play for Australian agriculture and ecosystems. We will continue to monitor the issue and work with Australia’s honey bee industry to implement the Roadmap to consider information about the impacts of pesticides on bees.  

Our role in regulating neonicotinoids in Australia

All neonicotinoids registered for use in Australia have been through the APVMA’s robust chemical risk assessment process and are safe and effective—provided products are used as per the label instructions.

The APVMA uses an evidence based, weight-of-evidence approach to risk assessments, which consider the full range of risks and take into account studies of the environment, including the impact on non-target species—and how these risks can be minimised through clear instructions, restricted uses and safety directions.

This approach is consistent with best practice among international regulators and the APVMA is a well-respected member of international standard setting bodies such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the Joint Food and Agricultural Organization / World Health Organisation Meeting on Pesticide Residues.

The APVMA’s chemical risk assessment process includes consideration of detailed data across broad scientific fields like toxicology, impacts on non-target and native plants and animals, worker health and safety and whether the product is effective.

Considering the environmental impact is part of every scientific assessment for any new active approval or product registration.

Australia has strong surveillance measures in place to monitor chemicals used nationally. This includes the national residue surveys of animal and plant products, with the most recent results for 2015–16 finding no traces of neonicotinoids in any of the honey products tested.

The APVMA’s assessment of new studies into neonicotinoids

New studies, assessment reports and scientific opinions on approved pesticides or veterinary medicines are generated regularly and the APVMA evaluates the scientific merits of these before deciding whether a formal reconsideration—or other regulatory action—is appropriate.

There are many factors affecting bee health and productivity which include, diet, disease, biosecurity and biodiversity, climate and chemical use. The make-up of these factors and resulting impact to bees varies from country to country. In the context of Europe, the European Union has had restrictions on the use of a number of neonicotinoids since 2013. Given that Australian honey bee health is good, there is no cause for similar restrictions here.

Our regulatory investigations into honey bee health

In 2014 we published the report Overview report on bee health and the use of neonicotinoids in Australia on our investigation into a broad range of issues affecting honey bee health in Australia, with a particular focus on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides. 

How bees can be exposed to neonicotinoids

As outlined in our Roadmap for insect pollinator risk assessment, bees can come into contact with neonicotinoids in a number of ways including:

  1. contact with neonicotinoid dusts that float into the air when seeds coated with insecticides are planted
  2. consuming the pollen, nector and guttation fluid of plants that have grown from the treated seed, or grown in soil sprayed with the chemicals
  3. direct contact with sprays applied to flowering plants.

The use instructions on the labelling of neonicotinoid products registered with the APVMA are designed to reduce the risk of these exposures.

Using neonicotinoids safely

There are a number of products registered by the APVMA that contain neonicotinoids. These products are effective and safe when used according to the label directions.

You can learn more about reducing the risks from using neonicotinoids in our recent report Roadmap for insect pollinator risk assessments in Australia.

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