Stephen Leahy

Biosphere Journalist | SEAL Award for Enviro Journalism; UN Global Prize for Climate Reporting | Need to Know: Science and Insight https:/

Apr 27, 2018
Published on: National Geographic
1 min read

The European Union plans to ban the world’s most widely used insecticides in an effort to protect bees and other valuable pollinator insects.

The ban, approved by member countries Friday, targets insecticide compounds known as neonicotinoids (also called neonics for short). The ban is expected to come into force by the end of the year and will prohibit outdoor use of the chemicals (they may still be used inside greenhouses).

Neonics were introduced in the late 1980s as a safer alternative to older insecticides that are more toxic. Yet a growing body of research has pointed to environmental problems with their use.

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Neonics are very effective at destroying the nerve cells of insects that ingest them. Most corn, soy, and wheat seeds planted today are coated with neonics. But if a bird eats the seeds, they could be at risk, EPA science shows. As the crops grow, the plants incorporate the neonics into their tissues, making them poisonous to any insect that nibbles on them. Pollen, nectar, sap, and even dead leaves contain neonics.

Related: Are These Birds Threatened by Pesticides?

So does the soil, and because neonics readily mix with water, they're washed into streams, ponds, rivers, and possibly coastal zones, according to an international scientific assessment called Task Force on Systemic Pesticides.

“Neonics are 5,000 to 10,000 times more toxic than DDT,” said Jean-Marc Bonmatin of The National Centre for Scientific Research in France.

Neonics have been previously implicated in sterilizing male bees.

Not only have these insecticides been linked to dramatic declines in bees and other pollinators, they’re also suspected in declines in many other insect species, along with insect-eating birds and bats. Even important creatures like earthworms are being damaged by neonics, a four-year investigation by the task force found.

The EU had previously banned use of neonics on flowering crops that are known to specifically attract bees, noting that an estimated three quarters of important food crops may be pollinated by bees.

These insecticides are used everywhere: in homes, gardens, farms, greenhouses, orchards, parks, and forests. If a product says it will kill insects there’s a good chance it contains one of seven neonicotinoids: acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam. (A list of products containing neonicotinoids can be found on the website for the U.S. Center for Food Safety.)

The U.S. EPA is currently re-evaluating the neonicotinoid family of pesticides, and temporarily halted the approval of new outdoor uses.

Canada has also limited their use.

The Beauty of Birds


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This shot of a gray heron in Hungary won a silver award in the attention to detail category.

… Read MorePhotograph by Ahmad Al-essa

A vibrant image of pink flamingos feeding their young at a nesting area in Río Lagartos, Mexico, earned Alejandro Prieto Rojas the title of Bird Photographer of the Year and a gold award for best portrait.

… Read MorePhotograph by Alejandro Prieto Rojas

Coots (Fulica atra) fight over territory in Derbyshire, U.K., in this gold award winner for bird behavior photography.

… Read MorePhotograph by Andrew Parkinson

This shot of an Australian pelican landing in New South Wales, Australia, won a gold in the flight category.

… Read MorePhotograph by Bret Charman

A winner for best portfolio, Markus Varesvuo cast this bearded reedling (Panurus biarmicus) against the setting mid-winter sun in Helsinki, Finland.

… Read MorePhotograph by Markus Varesvuo

Another image from portfolio winner Varesvuo captures the grey owl (Strix nebulosa) in Kuusamo, Finland.

… Read MorePhotograph by Markus Varesvuo

An Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) looks for prey in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, in this gold-award winner for birds in the environment.

… Read MorePhotograph by Ben Hall

A barn owl hunts in Suffolk, England, in this image that won gold in the birds in the garden category.

… Read MorePhotograph by Jamie Hall

Winning gold in the attention to detail category, this shot of a great cormorant in Hyde Park, London, captures the bird's outspread wing.

… Read MorePhotograph by Tom Hines

A Pacific black duck (Anas superciliosa) shows its feathers in Garvey Park, Perth, Australia. This image won gold in the creative imagery category.

… Read MorePhotograph by Georgina Steytler

This shot of a whiskered tern (Chlidonias hybrida) in wetlands in Hungary won gold in the young bird photographer of the year category.

… Read MorePhotograph by Ondrej Pelanek

The Nature Photographers Ltd people's choice award went to this image of a kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) in Suffolk, England.

… Read MorePhotograph by Vince Burton

A great white heron wrestles with a green snake in the Florida Everglades in this shot from the bird behavior category.

… Read MorePhotograph by Jose Garcia