Science - May 17, 2018

‘The arguments for the ban on neonicotinoids are weak’

Stijn van Gils

From 1 January 2019, farmers will no longer be allowed to use the insecticides imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam – the neonicotinoids – out of doors. They are harmful to birds and bees, the EU has concluded. Farmers and the chemicals industry are angry and are threatening to go to court. Hilfred Huiting, a researcher at Wageningen Research in Lelystad, thinks they have a point.

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Is a ban really so terrible for farmers?

‘There is a solution for everything, but the question is whether some crops will still be viable in the short term once farmers are no longer allowed to use these pesticides. That applies to sugar beet and certain vegetables such as cabbage.’

But the ban is good for nature, isn’t it?

‘That is debatable too. Now, sugar beet seeds are often coated in neonicotinoids. That protects them well against pests, and the insecticide is only toxic to insects that eat the plant, because the crop is not pollinated by bees or bumble bees. Soon a lot of farmers will spray their crops with other insecticides several times a year. That is damaging not just for the insects that eat the plant, but also for insects flying around nearby. Politically, I understand the total ban, but scientifically, I don’t think it is backed up by good arguments.’

Aren’t there any other, more environmentally friendly alternatives?

‘Oh yes. For some crops, such as maize, these neonicotinoids were banned a few years ago. There are good alternatives for those crops. Sometimes the alternative is different pesticides, sometimes it is a different management strategy. For example, click beetles in maize can be controlled well by ploughing over the soil at the right moment in the year. That kind of option is often a partial solution, whereas neonicotinoids are an off-the-shelf  solution. Those partial solutions require a lot of knowledge and we don’t have that for every crop, by any means. Not enough has been invested in that recently, either.’

Can we expect to see that investment now?

‘A ban does stimulate the development of alternatives. So maybe it will turn out to be a good thing in the long term. But try telling that to a farmer who faces serious problems now.’

Re:actions 3

  • no

    How is it possible to support the use of such products, when one knows that neonicotinoids are the main drivers of bee disappearance.
    How can you say that the scientific arguments are weak, when there is actually a very large consensus about this is the research community ? Who are you working for ?!

    But for sure, you know better than those scientists working on the topic, see for example:

    So, the arguments are still weak ?

  • suspicious

    By the way Hilfred Huiting, are you still working at Bayer CropScience to have this point of view ?

  • Anonymous

    It is incredible to see how Wageningen, calling itself a 'green University' is systematically defending dangerous products. Now it is for the neonicotinoids and before it was for defending the use of the electric fishing. I am seriously wondering what kind of investments the companies are doing in Wageningen to have so many (only Dutch) researchers defending such things. Do you know, there is not only the money in life, there is also TRUE sustainability, and it goes by prohibiting the use of harmful technologies, killing the bees or doing deserts in the ocean.


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  • Goede Hoop

    Als de oogst van suikerbieten minder wordt, wordt de prijs van suiker hopelijk hoger. Ongezonde producten met veel suiker worden duurder en zo heeft dit een positieve uitwerking op onze gezondheid.