Open Letter, 16 November 2006
Mr Markos Kyprianou
Commissioner of Health and Consumer Protection
EUROPEAN COMMISSION, DG Health and Consumer Protection
Pesticides and bees protection: the case of Imidacloprid, Fipronil, Thiamethoxam and Clothianidin
The signatories of this letter are representatives of beekeeper associations, consumers and environmental organisations. Moved by the current situation of beekeeping in Europe, they wish to share with you their concerns about the approval, or possible approval, by your Directorate General and by the Standing Committee for Food Chain and Animal Health (SCFCAH) of some active substances used in Europe for phytosanitary aims.
On July 7th 2006, Directive 2006/41/EC has indeed included clothianidin in Appendix I of Directive 91/414/EEC, allowing Member States to authorize products containing this active substance. Thiamethoxam has recently been approved by the Standing Committee and is now awaiting the final decision of the Commission. In addition, the documents related to inclusion of imidacloprid and fipronil to Appendix I are currently available through the EFSA website. It is thus possible to access the Draft Assessment Report (DRA) for both of these substances, and for one of them, fipronil, the conclusions of the Peer Review on the risk assessment.
Various reasons lead us to believe that Europe should abandon the inclusion of these substances in Appendix I. Having considered the particular nature of these substances, we have indeed some doubts on the conformity of their evaluation reports to the clauses of Directive 91/414/EEC and its appendix.
These compounds share some characteristics that, according to the clauses of the directive, fall under the following categories:
1. These substances are systemic.
Systemic treatments, which aim to address the entire plant, are liable to contaminate all its parts, including the flower. It is proven today, and nobody denies it , that the aforesaid active substances are present in the nectar and the pollen of plants coming from treated seeds. Besides, this fact is not ignored in the DRA of imidacloprid and fipronil. These substances are thus found in the food of bees and their brood.
2. These substances are neurotoxic.
The aforementioned substances are insecticides that have the effect of blocking some mechanisms of neurotransmission in the adult insect or in the larva . In very small doses (of about one part per billion -ppb) these compounds are able, without killing the insect, to cause behavioural disturbances (e.g. orientation errors) that could be deadly for the colony, whose survival relies on the integrity of the ability of its members.
3. These substances are persistent in the environment.
The documents appearing on the EFSA website state that worrying persistence occurs for imidacloprid and fipronil as well as for some of their metabolites. The same applies to clothianidin and thiamethoxam. This was somehow expected since the stability of these compounds is necessary for the systemic action supposed to last for the entire growing period of the plant, namely several months. As the pesticides are widely used and may be used on all cereals, maize, sugar beets, potatoes (as spray), as well as on beetroot, oilseed rapes or sunflower, for several consecutive years and in a systematic rotation, we believe it is necessary to study the behaviour of the substances in the soil after several successive years of treatment, and the possible contamination of untreated flowering crops that have been grown in a soil being treated for several consecutive years.
4. These substances carry acute toxicity that is extremely strong for bees.
Directive 91/414/EEC foresees this situation. In fact, it requires that Member States assess the hazard quotient (HQ) of phytosanitary compounds for bees before authorising them. The HQ is given by the dose of substance applied per hectare and the acute toxicity for bees due to oral intake or to contact. When the HQ is higher than 50, complementary tests have to be produced, in order to fully appreciate the effects (of the product) on honeybee larvae, on honeybee behaviour, colony survival and development after use of the plant protection product according to the proposed conditions of use .
The toxicity of these molecules for bees is significant ; in fact when the HQ is calculated, it reaches surprising figures: for example, for imidacloprid, HQ by oral acquisition reaches 40 540; while it gets to 1852 by contact. For clothianidin, HQ by oral intake scores more than 10,000 .
For fipronil, HQs have not been calculated because they are considered not relevant – we will come back to this issue later. However, it is easy to calculate these quotients on the basis of the elements provided by the documents and the values obtained through oral intake fall between 7,194 and 11,990 depending on the considered crop. The HQ figures that we could see for the
compounds presented are of the same order of magnitude. Required tests on bee brood have not been carried out. Tests on the colony, considered as a system, are insufficient.
In the imidacloprid and fipronil files, it is stated that HQ would not be a relevant index for seed coatings. On this point, we have the following remarks :
- This index, whether it is relevant or not, is the only one that appears in Appendix VI of Directive 91/414/EEC which requires these tests when the coefficient is greater than 50. Neither EFSA, nor the Members States have the liberty to decide whether to eliminate the measures10 that they consider irrelevant.
- Several scientific publications propose another safety index11 for the products used to treat the seeds. If it appears that this coefficient is more relevant that the HQ, it is up to the Council to modify Appendix VI of the directive, in accordance with the article 18 of the directive. As long as the directive is not modified, the current version of the legislation must apply.
- It would indeed be unacceptable that some measures concerning bee protection appearing in the legislation be merely swept away because the safety coefficient is not relevant for seed coatings. Indeed, as we have seen above, seed coatings have an impact on bees, as the products in the coatings, on one hand, contaminate the bees and the reserves of the colony, and on the other are liable to seriously disturb bees behaviour, and thus to put in peril the survival of the colony, even at low doses.
Reading the reports brings up more remarks. The reliability of some results is questionable12. In addition, conflicting scientific studies13 are available but not at all represented in the report. Therefore, we consider the risk assessment of these active substances insufficient, whilst many phytosanitary products based on these active substances are on the market and are used widely across the Member States.
For all the above mentioned reasons we ask that no molecule showing high toxicity (HQ>50) towards bees, and in particular, fipronil and imidacloprid, is registered in Appendix I of Directive 91/414/EEC as long as independent and validated tests have not shown the innocuousness of the product for bees, their brood, and the functioning of the colony considered as a system.
The Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam cases must be reassessed on this basis.
The registration of these molecules in Appendix I is unacceptable if the potential toxicity of the treatments by seed coating has not been accurately evaluated. Moreover, we note that Member States are currently not able to conform to the clauses of Appendix VI when authorising the products containing these active substances. Yet, it is up to the European authority to avoid any decision that would encourage Member States to act in violation of the rules that it has itself prescribed.
The European Commission has to earn more public credibility that it is committed to guarantee a high level of environmental protection to its citizens. Moreover, the future of our bees, valuable indicators of the state of the environment, fundamental components to our agriculture through their pollination services, and living organisms that we have the responsibility to protect, is extremely important.
We would greatly appreciate if you would meet with us in the near future to discuss these matters further.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
AAPI – Associzione Apicoltori
Luca Bonizzoni, Président
Asociación Galega de Apicultura- AGA
Xesús Asorey Martínez
Galica – España
Deutscher Berufs und ErwerbsImker Bund
Manfred Hederer, Präsident
European Professional Beekeepers Association
Peter Bross, President
Fédération Apicole Belge – Belgische Bijenteeltfederatie v.z.w.
Jean-Marie Bohet, président
Friends of the Earth Europe
Koninklijke Vlaamse Imkerbond
Chris Dauw, Voorzitter
Lëtzebuerger Landesverband fir Beienzuucht
M. Robert Henckes
Mitteldeutsche Imkerunion EV
Günther Jesse , Vorsitzender
Mouvement pour le droit et le respect des générations futures
François Veillerette, Président
Nature et Progrès Belgique
Marc Fichers, Secrétaire général
Pesticide Action Network
Sofia Parente, PAN Europe Coordinator
Syndicat national dapiculture
Yves Védrenne, Président
Dr. Friedhelm Berger, Präsident
Unione Nazionale Associazioni
Francesco Panella , Président
Union nationale de lapiculture française
Henri Clément, Président
BBL – BRL – IEB – IEW
Jean-Yves SALIEZ, secrétaire général IEW
- Stavros Dimas, Commissionner, Environment
- Commission of Agriculture of the European Parliament
- Commission of Environment of the European Parliament
- The Members of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health