Current review of neonicotinoids

The issue

There have been scientific studies published that suggest a link between the use of neonicotinoids and the declining health of honey bees in some regions.

Unlike in other countries, and because of our unique ecosystem, the scientific information available indicates that managed and wild honey bee populations are not in decline in Australia.

As with all agricultural chemicals, the APVMA continues to monitor and assess new information and credible scientific reports as they become available.

In November 2019, the APVMA decided to commence a chemical reconsideration of neonicotinoid insecticides to reconsider approved active constituents, registrations of selected products containing neonicotinoids, and all associated label approvals on the basis of risks to the environment. 

International restriction on three neonicotinoids

In April 2019, the PMRA published final pollinator re-evaluation decisions for the three neonicotinoids registered in Canada (imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam). The PMRA cancelled some uses and required mitigation measures (ie, changes to the registration conditions) for others.

The PMRA concluded that pollinator-related risks for all currently registered seed treatment uses, including those on bee-attractive crops such as canola, are acceptable.

In April 2018, the EU Commission voted to restrict the use of three neonicotinoid compounds (imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam) to uses in greenhouses only.

How bees can be exposed to neonicotinoids

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

  1. contact with neonicotinoid dusts in the air when treated seeds are planted
  2. consuming the pollen, nectar, or sap of plants grown from treated seed, or in treated soil
  3. direct contact with sprays applied to flowering plants.

The use instructions on neonicotinoid product labels are designed to reduce the risk of these exposures.

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 according to 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. The label includes instructions to minimise these risks through specifying use patterns 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 the consideration of human health, impacts on non-target and native plants and animals, and efficacy.

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

Australia has strong surveillance measures in place to monitor the use of chemicals. This includes national residue surveys of animal and plant products.

Regulatory assessment of impacts on pollinators

In 2014, the APVMA published the overview report on bee health and the use of neonicotinoids in Australia, which covered into a broad range of issues affecting honey bee health in Australia and had a particular focus on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides.

There are many factors affecting bee health and productivity, which include region-specific factors including diet, disease, biosecurity and biodiversity, climate and chemical use. These factors and the resulting impact on bees varies from country to country.

Using neonicotinoids safely

There are a number of neonicotinoid containing products registered by the APVMA. 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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