An expert report released on Wednesday 26 August by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) states that the three main molecules (clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid) of the neonicotinoid family are "high risk" to bees, even if used as a simple spray.
In spring 2013, the same EFSA agency had led the European Union to put in place a two-year moratorium on certain "systemic" uses of these molecules; moratorium limited to maize, sunflower and rapeseed. The ban did not affect systemic treatments used in spraying certain crops such as cereals.
EFA's new warning now goes further, confirming the role of neonicotinoids in the decline of bees, and consequently that of agriculture. This expertise should lead the European Union to extend the ban to all uses of these pesticide substances. This is a major food safety issue, all the more so as viable, non-chemical alternatives exist and should be encouraged even more widely.
The game is far from being won, because despite the proven risks to bees, Brussels may give in to pressure from agrochemical lobbies and put certain substances back into circulation or authorise them. It has already done so recently, since at the end of July it authorised the marketing of a new neurotoxic insecticide, sulfoxaflor, developed by the giant Dow Agrosciences despite the reticence of the EFSA and the anger of beekeeping organisations and NGOs such as Greenpeace.
The disappearance of the bees
It is called "Colony Collapse Disorder" or CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder). This mortality phenomenon is abnormal and recurrent, particularly in France and the rest of Europe, since 1981.
This in turn affects bee production in much of the world where the species has been introduced. It pmakes hives suddenly emptied of almost all their bees, usually at the end of winter, more rarely in the middle of the foraging season. In the U.S., nearly 25 % of the bee population disappeared during the winter of 2006-2007. Many European countries have been affected since the early 2000s. Losses can reach, locally, up to 90 % of colonies. The winter mortality rates of honeybee hives, measured since the beginning of the phenomenon, are almost systematically higher than the previously observed rates of about 10 %.
This syndrome is considered to be of great concern by beekeepers, but also by many ecologists, economists and experts because of the economic and ecological importance of bees as pollinators.
According to INRA, the production of 84 % of the species cultivated in Europe depends directly on pollinators, which are more than 90 % away from domestic and wild bees. The services rendered to pollination by bees are estimated at about fifteen billion dollars per year in the United States.
This epidemic phenomenon is the subject of scientific and media controversy. Researchers studying this phenomenon could only rely on a very poor corpus of studies and data, particularly eco-epidemiological and genetic data. Since the mid-2000s, numerous works have been published, which has enabled the constitution of an increasingly solid bibliography. Considerable progress has been made, including the correct identification of the chemical agents and bio-aggressors involved in the phenomenon and the demonstration of various synergistic effects.