NeoNics in the News

Press Release

Soil Association calls for urgent ban on dangerous pesticides linked to honey bee deaths

29 September 2008

A group of insect-killing sprays known as neonicotinoids [1] that are widely used in UK farming have now been banned in four other European countries because they are thought to be killing bees [2]. Italy has just joined Germany, Slovenia and France in banning the sprays [3]. This week the Italian government issued an immediate suspension of these sprays after they accepted that they are killing bees. The Soil Association has today written to Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for the Environment, urging him to ban the sprays in the UK with immediate effect [4].

There is worldwide concern at widespread, unexplained and devastating deaths of honey bees over the last two years. Bee keepers have reported potentially catastrophic loss of bees from their hives ranging anywhere from 30-90 percent. Britain’s beekeepers have reported that close to one in three hives have failed to make it through last winter and spring[5]. This "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD) is not just a problem for beekeepers and farmers, but for consumers as well, since bee pollination is essential for crop production. The US Department of Agriculture says that one out of every three mouthfuls of food is dependant on bee pollination, and globally up to two-thirds of all major crops rely on pollination, mainly by bees.

The products implicated in bee deaths, clothianidin, imidacloprid, fipronil and thiamethoxam, are approved to kill insects on a wide range of crops in the UK including very widely grown oilseed rape, barley, and sugar beet. They are also cleared for use in ornamental plant and hop production [6]. The use of these chemicals on oilseed rape is of particular concern, as the crop’s yellow flowers are very attractive to honey bees, and the crop has become popular with bee keepers.

Peter Melchett, Soil Association Policy Director said, "It is typical of the lax approach to pesticide regulation in the UK that we look like being one of the last of the major farming countries in the EU to wake up to the threat to our honey bees and ban these nasty sprays. We want the Government to act today to remove this threat to Britain’s honey bees. The UK Government is almost alone in the EU in fighting against proposed new, tighter European controls on farm sprays, and in the light of what has happened to honey bees, we are calling on Hilary Benn to back European proposals for tighter controls on farm sprays."
Since their introduction by Bayer CropScience in the USA in 2003, these neonicotinoid sprays have been linked to the devastating loss of millions of honey bees in a number of countries. Germany banned the pesticides after beekeepers in the Baden-Wurttenberg region reported that two thirds of their bees died in May following the application of clothianidin. In 1995 bee keepers in North Dakota took Bayer to court when a third of their bees were killed by imacloprid. In France, a third of the honey bee population was killed after widespread use of imidacloprid[7].

Organic farming relies on a number of techniques to avoid the use of sprays that kill insects, including not growing the same or similar crops every year, and encouraging natural predators of insect pests (like wild birds, ladybirds and lacewings). Under Soil Association organic rules, only four sprays can be used, compared to over 300 available to non-organic farmers.


For media enquiries contact the Soil Association press office 0117 914 2448 /

Notes to editors:

[1] These pesticides are approved for use in the UK and are known by the following names:
clothianidin - Bayer UK 978, Deter, Modesto, Poncho, Poncho 250, Poncho Beta, Raxil Deter, Redigo Deter, (all manufactured by Bayer CropScience)
imidacloprid - Admire, Bayer uk 720, Baytan Secur, Bug free extra, Chinook, Chinook blue, Chinook colourless, Couraze, Gaucho, Imadasect, Intercept, Merit turf, Mido 70%, Neptune, Nuprid, Provado ultimate bug killer, Raxil secur, Tripod plus
fipronil - Regent 1GR, Vi-Nil
thiamethoxam - Actara, Bug attack granules/liquid/quicksticks, Centric, Cruiser sb

[2] Neonicotinoid pesticides are systemic chemicals that work their way through the plant and attack the nervous system of any insect it comes into contact with. The substances also get into the pollen and the nectar and this is how they damage beneficial insects such as bees.

[3] Italy followed Germany and Slovenia which banned sales of clothianidin and imidacloprid in May. In France imidacloprid has been banned for use on sunflowers and in 2003 the use of the spray on sweet corn was also banned. Bayer´s application for clothianidin was rejected by French authorities.

[4] Soil Association letter to Hilary Benn (cut and paste the link below for a pdf of the letter):$FILE/Hilary%20Benn%20letter%2026.09.pdf



[7] Clothianidin and imidacloprid are produced by the German company Bayer CropScience and generated €800 million in profits in 2007. Imidacloprid is Bayer’s best-selling pesticide. In August the German ‘Coalition against Bayer Dangers’ brought a charge against Werner Wenning, chairman of the Bayer Board of Management, for marketing dangerous pesticides and thereby accepting the mass death of bees all over the world. The charge was introduced in cooperation with German beekeepers who lost thousands of hives after poisoning by the pesticide clothianidin in May this year.