The use of neonicotinoid pesticides is a key driver in the decline of bee populations and is also a major threat to other invertebrate species, scientists have claimed in a new report.

The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides said the use of neonicotinoids had resulted in “widespread contamination of agricultural soils, freshwater resources, wetlands, non-target vegetation, estuarine and coastal marine systems”.

The taskforce – a group of global independent scientists – undertook a full analysis of 800 scientific studies and how neonicotinoids affect birds, animals, soil and water and bees. It published its main conclusions today (24 June), with the full report to be published through the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

The scientists said they found the pesticides exposed bees to “persistent and potent neurotoxins”, which led to adverse effects on bee navigation, learning, food collection, longevity, resistance to disease and reproduction.

The report, which was funded by ethical bank Triodos’ support fund for independent research on bee decline, also suggested the chemicals could have a “negative effect” on the physiology and survival of a wide range of other invertebrates, and called for their use to be phased out.

“These compounds are incompatible with integrated pest management,” the scientists said.

They added regulatory agencies should consider formulating plans “for a substantial reduction of the global scale of use” of neonicotinoid pesticides, and called for continued research into alternatives.

Equally pressing was the need “for education for farmers and other practitioners” and the need for policies and regulations to encourage the adoption of alternative agricultural strategies to manage pests, the report claimed.


“The evidence is clear; neonicotinoids are harming our pollinating insects and could be causing damage to many other species and habitats. Regulators must take a much more precautionary approach to pesticide authorisations,” said Vanessa Amaral-Rogers, one of the scientists behind the report and spokeswoman for charity Buglife.

Friends of the Earth spokesman Paul de Zylva called the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments “not compatible with sustainable farming”, while Helen Browning, director of the Soil Association, said farming “urgently needs to learn the lessons of organic farmers, in the way they succeed to manage pests and benefit wildlife without the use of dangerous pesticides”.

However, the Crop Protection Association (CPA) – whose members include pesticide manufacturers – said the report was “not new research” and was a “selective review of existing studies which highlighted worst-case scenarios, largely produced under laboratory conditions”.  “As such, the publication does not represent a robust assessment of the safety of systemic pesticides under realistic conditions of use,” added CEO Nick von Westenholz. “The crop protection industry takes its responsibility towards pollinators seriously.”

“There is no new research in this report,” said Dr Julian Little, spokesman for Bayer Crop Sciences. “The research was lab-based, and if what it said was the case, all species of bee would have been affected. The report gives the impression that ecology is collapsing and that is simply not true.” 

UK derogation

The publication of the report comes as biochemical and insecticide producer Syngenta made an application on behalf of UK farmers this week for a UK derogation from the EU-wide ban on neonicotinoid seed treatment.

A spokesman for the company said the emergency application was limited to between 25% to 30% of the historic use of neonicotinoids where there was “a danger to crops”.

The exemption would be targeted at protecting early sown crops from aphid damage during the establishment phase, and where flea beetle pressure was high due to “significant pyrethroid resistance and lack of available alternatives for treatment”. The derogation application has gained regulatory approval but was yet to be given permission by the government to proceed.

Responding to the taskforce’s report, the spokesman added that “the balance of evidence (and field research in particular) continues to conclude that neonicotinoids are safe for use in the environment”.