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Updated on 09/08/2018

ANSES's work on neonicotinoids

Our long-time commitment

Keywords : Neonicotinoids, Plant protection products, Biocides, Veterinary medicinal products, Bees

Neonicotinoids are systemic insecticidal substances used in agriculture to protect crops from pests; they are also used as biocides and veterinary medicinal products. There are currently five active substances in the class of neonicotinoids approved for plant protection purposes at the European level. Since the first marketing authorisations were granted for neonicotinoid products in the early 1990s, concerns have been expressed in several countries in Europe with regard to their possible impact on the health of bees. ANSES contributes to improving scientific knowledge in this area through its work on co-exposure of bees to stress factors and through its missions for the assessment of active substances and plant protection and biocidal products.

The approval of active plant protection substances falls within the remit of the EU, following an opinion by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). As a rapporteur Member State, ANSES participates in the assessment of these substances, in the framework of EFSA's work. The assessment of the active substances is carried out from three angles: assessment of the hazard intrinsic to the active substance; assessment of exposure and risks to humans and the environment for one or more representative uses; assessment of the substance's effectiveness.

IIn 2012, the Agency recommended instigating a European-level review of active neonicotinoid substances and changing the European regulations to better take into account the impacts of these substances on bee behaviour. It also requested data to supplement the European regulatory framework for the examination of marketing authorisation applications for products. In addition, a French Ministerial Order sets out special provisions to significantly reduce bee exposure to dust from treated seeds.

Strengthening the products' conditions of use

IIn 2016, in line with the measures for the preservation of pollinators and biodiversity implemented by France at the European level, ANSES received a formal request from the Ministers of Ecology, Agriculture and Health to actively participate in European expert appraisals on the review of active substances. In an opinion published in January 2016, the Agency reviewed the context of the European assessment of active neonicotinoid substances and the national assessment of plant protection products containing them, and recommended strengthening the conditions of use of products containing the active substances clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid for all uses for which considerable uncertainty remained.

In 2018, following a review of all the available data, the uses of these three substances were heavily restricted at the European level; in particular, they are now only allowed in greenhouses.

Assessment of alternatives to neonicotinoids

In its Article 125, the French Act on the restoration of biodiversity, nature and landscapes (in French) provides for a ban on plant protection products containing active substances from the neonicotinoid class and on seeds treated with these products, with effect from 1 September 2018. The Act also states that waivers may be granted until 1 July 2020 on the basis of an assessment prepared by ANSES, comparing the benefits and risks related to the use of these products with those associated with substitute products or alternative methods. The Act stipulates that this assessment should address the impacts on the environment, in particular on pollinators, as well as on public health and agricultural activity.

In this context, the Agency received a formal request from the Ministry of Agriculture in March 2016 to undertake an assessment weighing up the agronomic risks and advantages of plant protection products containing neonicotinoids and their chemical and non-chemical alternatives.

In the first volume of its report, published in March 2017, ANSES described a  a methodology for identifying these alternatives and comparing their efficacy and operational capability with those of neonicotinoids. The analysis grid adopted can be used to consistently and systematically compare the alternative control methods (chemical and non-chemical), for each of the neonicotinoid uses, on the basis of four criteria: the effectiveness, operational capability, sustainability and practicality of each method considered.
For most of the uses, sufficiently effective and operational chemical and non-chemical alternatives were identified. In six cases, no chemical or non-chemical alternatives meeting these criteria were identified. In 89% of cases, the solutions to replace neonicotinoids were based on the use of other active substances, especially pyrethrinoids. In 39% of cases, the chemical alternatives relied on the same class of active substances, a single active substance or a single marketed product. And in 78% of the analysed cases, there was at least one non-chemical alternative solution.
In the second part of its report, published in March 2018, the Agency defined risk indicators for humans and the environment (including pollinators), for chemical alternatives.

Depending on the use and the risk in question (dietary, non-dietary, bees, aquatic organisms, etc.), the comparison of risk indicators associated with neonicotinoids with those associated with their chemical alternatives could lead to different results. It was therefore not possible to draw an overall, concise conclusion as to the active substances with the least unfavourable risk profiles compared to that of neonicotinoids.

In the third part, ANSES analysed the impact of the ban on neonicotinoid use and the implementation of alternatives on agricultural activity. This impact is difficult to anticipate, mainly due to the wide variety of neonicotinoid uses and the fact that the extensive use of these substances to treat seeds is partly an “insurance” measure. Even so, the Agency is proposing an indicative list of criteria for assessing the impact on sector activity.

It should be remembered that with regard to pest control, no single method is sufficiently effective but a combination of methods should be considered in the framework of an integrated control approach.

For most of the studied uses, it should also be noted that the ban on the use of substances belonging to the neonicotinoid class risks causing increased resistance to other insecticides, especially pyrethrinoids, if they are used as alternatives. ANSES therefore recommends speeding up the provision of effective alternative methods for crop protection and management that are safer for humans and the environment.

View the ANSES Opinion.

An expert appraisal on the human health effects

In addition, in April 2016, ANSES received a formal request from the Ministers of Health and the Environment, and the Secretary of State for Biodiversity, to conduct an in-depth expert appraisal of the effects on human health of all the neonicotinoid substances currently authorised at national level as either plant protection or biocidal products. This expert appraisal, which was published in February 2018, was extended to all products containing neonicotinoids: plant protection products, biocides and veterinary medicinal products.

ANSES reviewed all the available data on the hazards to human health presented by the six active substances in the class of neonicotinoids authorised under the regulations relating to plant protection products and/or biocides and/or veterinary medicinal products (acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiacloprid, thiamethoxam and dinotefuran).
This work revealed no harmful effects on human health, subject to compliance with the conditions of use laid down in the marketing authorisations. The Agency therefore reiterates the importance of complying with the conditions of use laid down in the products' marketing authorisations, to prevent potential impacts on human health.

However, with regard to the active substance thiacloprid, and given its hazard characteristics, the significant increase in its use noted during the period 2010-2015, and uncertainties related to cumulative exposure with other plant protection products or biocides with similar hazard characteristics, ANSES recommends minimising the uses of products containing this substance with effect from 2018.

ANSES's Sophia Antipolis Laboratory, the reference laboratory for bee health that is spearheading the network of national laboratories of the Member States of the European Union, is also working on this issue and developing methods for analysing residues of plant protection products and antiparasitics in the hive.