30/01/2013 3 min

Bee mortality and pesticides: ANSES's reaction to the publication of an opinion by the European Food Safety Authority

In opinions published today, the European Food Safety Authority in certain cases clearly emphasised bee colony health risks linked to exposure to insecticides containing three substances belonging to the neonicotinoid class. In other cases, risk assessments either could not be finalised due to insufficient data or were not possible because of a lack of data. These conclusions are mainly based on work conducted over the last few years to establish a new EU-level guideline document which will effectively account for all the currently-available scientific knowledge.   

In the wake of this EFSA opinion, which confirms certain doubts that were expressed by ANSES in its May 2012 opinion in answer to publication of a study on the harmful effects of a sublethal dose of a neonicotinoid substance on bee behaviour, the Agency is calling for finalisation of the new European guideline which will update assessment of substances and plant protection products within the framework of reinforced regulations on health risks for bee colonies.

ANSES was asked by the Ministry of Agriculture to provide scientific and technical support on the possible implications of a experimental study published in March 2012 (Henry et al. 2012) which reported the effects on bees of a neonicotinoid seed treatment used on nectar-producing crops (i.e. oilseed rape).

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was asked by the European commission for its opinion on the same topic.

In the context of this work, ANSES concluded in an Opinion dated 31 May 2012 that the results presented in the study highlighted the limitations of the methods used in the a priori assessment of the potential effects of the products on bee behaviour. The Agency recommended conducting an EU-level reassessment of the active neonicotinoid substances based on the new scientific data gathered from recent studies, and changing the EU regulations in order to more effectively take into account the impact of these substances on bee behaviour.

The work published today by EFSA is consistent with this approach. It involves 3 neonicotinoid substances (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam), and in certain cases highlights risks for bee colony health - and/or a lack of the data necessary to properly assess these risks. 

To conduct this assessment, EFSA based its work on the principles mentioned in a draft EU guideline document for the assessment of the risks of pesticides for bee colonies, currently being examined at EU level. ANSES has already submitted its comments, and is calling for the rapid adoption of the final document.

It should be noted that, in the assessment of marketing authorisation dossiers for plant protection products, and immediately following the arrival of these new types of plant protection products in the form of neonicotinoid-coated seeds, ANSES established complementary requirements to the EU regulatory framework. Therefore, the products and uses authorised in France only represent 5% of all the products and uses authorised in at least one European country.

In addition, an incident due to certain practices employed when use of these coated seeds was in its early stages prompted the public authorities, on recommendation by ANSES, to draft an order requiring special measures to greatly reduce the exposure of bees to dust from these substances. While this fact specific to France was not taken into account in the assessment conducted by EFSA, its Opinion does however highlight the importance of the risks linked to dust. 

More generally, ANSES also adds that bee mortality is a multifactorial phenomenon that requires prompt action to be taken on all the factors which may be responsible for it. In this context, and in its role as a European Union Reference Laboratory (EURL), ANSES is in charge of coordinating a vast Europe-wide epidemiological surveillance programme which aims to improve characterisation of bee mortality. The EURL's work programme for bee health takes into account among hive-weakening factors both pathogens and exposure to plant protection products (including neonicotinoids). 

In 2012 ANSES set up a specific expert group dedicated to furthering comprehension of the effects of co-exposure to pesticides and pathogens on the fate of bee colonies. Their work will be used to prepare recommendations to be issued by 2014 in view of their incorporation into the regulations as a complement to the work conducted by EFSA.