Are Neonicotinoids Killing Bees - Event Review

Experts from academia and industry were in London on Thursday 22 September 2016 to debate the evidence that the use of neonicotinoid insecticides has a real effect on bees or whether there are other reasons that might be to blame for their decline. The event was organised by the SCI Agrisciences Group and attended by more than 40 delegates from across the UK and Europe. Two of the speakers - Norman Carreck (University of Sussex) and Dr Peter Campbell (Syngenta) - were interviewed by the BBC Radio 4 Farming Today programme as part of the conference and a recording of the broadcast is available at the end of this article.

The meeting on 22 September was kicked off by Tom Bradshaw, an Essex farmer and chairman of the East Anglian crops board for the National Farmers Union, who shared his experiences of how invaluable neonicotinoid insecticides were in controlling key pests of oilseed rape (OSR), and how the current ban had led to zero planting of OSR on his farm this year.

Presentations from Dr Richard Gill (Imperial College London), Prof Keith Walters (Imperial College London / Harper Adams) and Dr Tjeerd Blacquière (Wageningen Plant Research, The Netherlands) summarised recent laboratory and (semi-)field studies showing both positive and negative effects of neonicotinoids on bees.

Dr Alan Dewar (Dewar Crop Protection Ltd) and Prof Lin Field (Rothamsted Research) highlighted the importance of selective insect control strategies, and Dr Dieter Foqué (Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research, Belgium) presented a modelling approach to generate data on the risk of pesticide dust emission from treated seeds during drilling. Norman Carreck emphasised how many beekeepers are currently confused by the conflicting evidence on neonicotinoids with many believing that the most important threats to colony health are from the Varroa mite and poor beekeeping practices rather than pesticides.

Dr Anne Alix (Dow AgroSciences) provided an overview of the regulatory framework which regulates the placing of pesticides on the market in Europe, and outlined the stringent human and environmental safety studies necessary before such pesticides including neonicotinoids are approved for use. Further industry presentations from Dr Christian Maus (Bayer AG) and Dr Peter Campbell showed results from recent field studies indicating no neonicotinoid-treatment related effects following exposure to bees.

The meeting ended with a panel discussion chaired by the co-organisers Dr Robin Blake (CSI Europe) and Dr Len Copping (LGC Consultants). The key conclusions were:

  • Further studies are needed to elucidate the impact of neonicotinoids on bee populations at field and landscape level, and with regard to sub-lethal effects.
  • Realistic dose rates should be used rather than artificially high rates to elicit an effect.
  • Correlation does not necessarily equal causation. This is especially true where authors focus on a single factor (e.g. neonicotinoid use) rather than investigating whether other factors (e.g. loss of habitat, bee pests and diseases, weather etc.) might also be to blame.
  • Need to understand difference between hazard and risk of neonicotinoid exposure.

Finally, prizes sponsored by Wiley were awarded for the best poster: 1st place - Duncan Coston (University of Reading / Rothamsted Research) who received a £100 book token; Joint 2nd place - Monica Kudelska (University of Southampton) and Dylan Smith (Imperial College London) who each received a £50 book token.

BBC Radio 4 - Farming Today 23 September 2016

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