Neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides which are toxic for bees. This is not in doubt. Even manufacturers of these poisons don’t deny it – it’s on the product information sheets.
But if we want to know which other insects and invertebrates may be harmed by neonicotinoids - or indeed any types of pesticide, a good place to look is on the product patents.
Patents may tell you about species or groups of species that could be at risk –
species the manufacturer doesn’t have to tell you about on the product
label. For example, there may be species within an insect family, some of which are labelled 'pests' and other very similar species which are not.
We’ll get to that in a moment. You’ll see that there is no requirement – certainly in the UK (and EU), for manufacturers to test for effects on, for example pollinating butterflies, ladybirds, lacewings, and other well-recognised gardening, farming and eco-friends, despite any claims on a patent that might be suggestive of a potential risk.
Patent databases are not easy to navigate, however, patents for insecticides can be researched at: Google Patents.
Remember, neonicotinoids include Clothianidin, Imidacloprid, Acetimacloprid, Thiacloprid, Thiamethoxam, Dinetofuran, and in some countries, Nitenpyram. You may also want to check out another systemic insecticide called Fipronil.
When retrieving patents, take a look at which species or orders of invertebrates it is stated the product can control.
I looked at:
I invite you to do the same, so you can see for yourself.
What did I find? Lists of many different species and invertebrate groups.
But let’s take one example: Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths).
A patent registered by Shiokawa et al 1989 for heterocyclic compounds, is cited frequently in other patents containing neonicotinoid imidacloprid (– it was the introduction of heterocyclic ring to nicotinoid insecticide, which helped create the neonicotinoid imidacloprid – see reference).
Scroll to the section where it talks about efficacy against invertebrates.......
.....and let's focus on what it says about Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths):
I’m concerned about potential threat to British moths and butterflies that are not ‘target pests’, because it takes too much of a leap of faith for me to believe that these pesticides are only going to kill 'pest' species of Lepidoptera, but conveniently remain non-toxic for our harmless species.
Take a look at the number of insect families mentioned on the patents for yourself, and do your own research about beneficial species in the same family.
I find it ridiculous that the intelligent
public are asked to convince ourselves that these insecticides are not going to
damage large numbers of beneficial invertebrates, including pollinating and
harmless butterflies and moths, bees and so on. It lacks credibility for me.
For more examples of insecticides containing neonicotinoids (imdacloprid and others), check the links top right, and do your own searches too.
Not to satisfy our regulators, they don’t.
Within pesticide regulatory assessment, only a select number of species are used for the testing of insecticides. The full details can be found: on the government website.
You'll note, the species include:
Other species: “The risk to non-target arthropods is routinely assessed under 91/414/EEC. Annex II of 91/414/EEC states that data on two sensitive standard species as well as data on two crop relevant species are required. If effects are observed with species relevant to the proposed use then further testing may be required.”
For ‘standard species’, depending on the test or product, it appears that either two from Hypoaspis aculeifer (a soil dwelling mite) or Folsomia candida (springtails) or Aleochara sp (beetles) Or Aphidius rhopalosiphi (aphid) and Typhlodromus pyri (a mite) are selected.
So pesticides are not tested on many invertebrates at all for regulatory purposes, regardless of what might be stated in patents!
According to the Royal Entomological Society, Britain has few ‘pest’ Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths).
So it seems reasonable to suppose that many beneficial species of Lepidoptera may be at risk, for the sake of targeting a small number of ‘target’ species. When I wrote to the RES, they replied:
So at most, in the UK out of 2750 lepidoptera species, only 200 are pests.
However, I also checked Carter – the number
of ‘pest species’ includes clothes moths – hardly relevant where neonicotinoids
are concerned - and also ‘insignificant pests’. This means there are even fewer potential target crop pest Lepidoptera than 200.
I haven’t been able to narrow down the number of species specific to agriculture and horticulture (I’m not aware of neonicotinoids being used in forestry in the UK yet, but maybe they are). I checked the FERA (Food & Environment Research Agency) website and could only find 10 listed lepidoptera species that were 'agricultural pests'. Maybe there are more, but I couldn't find them.
It is interesting to note statistics suggest that farmland butterflies are declining in the UK, and have been doing so since 2003 - source Butterfly Conservation report.
The Butterfly Conservation Brochure 2007 report stated:
(Note: I originally included links to reports on this site, but the links no longer function. You can search for relevant reports here https://butterfly-conservation.org/15458/library.html or contact them.)
This to me shows that intensive, isolated conservation efforts to save a species from extinction are all well and good, but they don't cut to the route of the problem in the grand scheme of things. We're seeing declines in invertebrates, birds and mammals on farmland - I suspect dousing hectares of land in poison isn't helping, and we need to do something about it!
Because frankly, it seems with the exception of a few isolated farming efforts, the only thing 'modern' intensive farming has contributed to biodiversity, is DECLINE.
This is what I think.
We drench millions of hectares of land with poison. Why?
How about another idea: ditch the farming subsidies supporting practices which poison the earth, ditch the pesticides, stop wasting food, and then see how that works!?
Personally, I think when international patents suggest efficacy against a class of insects or species within it, shouldn’t this be taken into account in risk assessment for non-target species?
I think this should be the case, and not only with neonicotinoid insecticides, but pesticides generally.
Of course, our regulatory procedures should require pesticides to be properly tested in the first place, but they do not.
And what of the consumer’s right to full information prior to purchase? Who wants to risk killing beautiful butterflies, bees and other non-target insects unnecessarily? Our regulatory bodies may not care, but I certainly do!