Bees and other pollinating insects play a crucial role in biodiversity and agriculture. Bee health is affected by many factors, including plant protection products, and protecting them from exposure to these products is therefore a priority. In this context, the Government's action plan on plant protection products and reduced dependence on pesticides in agriculture aims to strengthen the regulatory framework for the protection of bees and other pollinating insects. ANSES received a formal request from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Ministry of Ecological and Inclusive Transition to make recommendations to achieve this aim.
In response to this request, the Agency will therefore be issuing a series of recommendations and guidelines for strengthening the assessment of plant protection products with regard to the risks to bees and other pollinators.
The regulatory framework for the protection of bees
The marketing of plant protection products is governed by European regulations. An assessment of the risks to bees is carried out at European level before any active substance can be authorised. Data on the toxicity to bees of products containing these active substances must also be provided in order to obtain a marketing authorisation (MA) in each Member State. These data are assessed with a view to establishing specific conditions of use in the MA for each product, in order to protect bees.
France supplemented this European framework with a ministerial order dated 28 November 2003 prohibiting the use of insecticide and acaricide treatments throughout flowering and exudate-production periods, on all forest stands and crops visited by these insects. Its objective is to limit the exposure of bees to insecticide or acaricide residues during periods when the crops are attractive to them. Exemptions from this ban may be granted, following an analysis of the agronomic relevance of the request and of additional data on the product's toxicity to bees. If an exemption is granted, use during the flowering and exudate-production periods is possible, but only when the bees are not present.
Recommendations to strengthen this regulatory framework
ANSES took all the available data into account, including its own work on the co-exposure of bees and observations made in the context of the phytopharmacovigilance scheme. It recommends extending the ban on the application of insecticide and acaricide sprays during the flowering and/or exudate-production periods:
- to all plant protection products applied via spraying during these periods;
- to all products containing systemic active substances used in sprays before flowering and in seed treatments,
Including products containing micro-organisms.
ANSES recommends that the granting of exemptions from the ban on application should be subject to further testing, as soon as the methods allowing it become available:
- on brood development, the chronic effects of acute poisoning and, for any product containing a neurotoxic insecticide, on bee behaviour (testing their return to the hive);
- on acute oral and contact toxicity for bumblebees.
The Agency also recommends that regardless of which crop is concerned, plant protection treatments benefiting from such an exemption should only be applied after sunset (as defined by the calendar) and then within three hours, under conditions ensuring operator safety and health.
Further development of ANSES's assessment methodologies
In addition, following this work, ANSES is now asking its expert committee on assessment of plant protection products to update the risk assessment methodologies for plant protection products it implements to protect bees and other pollinators. This work will be based on the methodology proposed by EFSA, in particular for chronic risks for adult bees and larvae and the consideration of different exposure scenarios.