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N°29 I quarterly I APRIL 2013 Insights | 31 Biology Gérard Arnold, who co-signed the first report highlighting the risk of some insecticides to bees, analyzes the EFSA’s recent conclusions on the subject. Bee-Harming Insecticides under Scrutiny By Charlin e Zeitoun It is now established that some insecticidal seed treatments are a threat to bees. Three conclusions by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) confirm this long-held assumption and reveal that the regulatory tests for the registration of these products are inadequate. Known facts In 1995, French beekeepers reported increasing mortality rates among bee populations. They rapidly suspected Gaucho, a new insecticidal seed coating which spreads through the plant as it grows. Alerted by beekeepers, researchers from CNRS, the agricultural research institute INRA,1 and the food security agency AFSSA,2 carried out detection measurements. They found residues of imidacloprid (the active ingredient in Gaucho) in flower pollen, and provided evidence that the product was toxic to bees, even in minimal amounts. Bayer, which manufactures the insecticide, challenged this conclusion on the basis of ecotoxicological studies. “Just as for other chemical substances on the market, it is the manufacturers themselves who are entrusted with carrying out or funding experimental trials,” explains Gérard Arnold, from the LEGS.3 Safety agencies like the EFSA merely evaluate the tests provided. In 2003, a scientific and technical committee set up by the French Ministry of Agriculture, in which Arnold participated, issued a report on imidacloprid. The document stated that a large number of published results were not scientifically sound, and pointed to the existence of a risk to bees. In 2011, the European dedicated to producing innovation.” Meanwhile, the European Environment Agency has just published a weighty report5 on several recent scientific controversies such as Gaucho in France, nanotechnology, and bisphenol A (BPA). In this document, Laura Maxim, a researcher at the ISCC, pinpoints problems underlying each of these controversies, such as, unsurprisingly, industry lobbying, the conflicts of interest facing some experts, and above all, the evaluation of new technologies using outdated methods. 01. Institut national de la recherche agronomique. 02. Now called Anses (Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail). 03. Laboratoire évolution, génomes et spéciation (CNRS). 04. www.efsa.europa.eu/fr/press/news/130116.htm. 05. www.eea.europa.eu/publications/late-lessons-2. Commission instructed the EFSA to draw up a scientific opinion on the methods used to assess pesticide risks to bees. Recent findings The working group, in which Arnold was also involved, looked at flaws in existing experimental procedures. These included the fact that sub-lethal risks (bee disorientation, for example) had never been assessed for approval, and that pesticide registration mainly focused on acute rather than chronic toxicity, caused by small amounts ingested several times. “The tests were originally designed for insecticides used in spray applications,” adds Arnold. “However, they are no longer suitable for systemic products, present throughout the duration of flowering.” Therefore, the EFSA reassessed the toxicity of three insecticide molecules (imidacloprid, thiomethoxam, and clothianidin), and in January 2013 concluded that they posed an acute risk to bees.4 Forthcoming changes In May 2013, the EFSA will publish new official risk assessment procedures for these active ingredients. “This has been a long, arduous process,” says Arnold. “It would be more effective to increase the budget allocated to research into the effects of these substances on health and the environment. At present, this budget is extremely low in comparison with that Contact in formation: LE GS, Gif-sur-Yvette. ISCC, Paris. Gérard Arnold > gerard.arnold@legs.cnrs-gif.fr > gerard.arnold@iscc.cnrs.fr q Attaching RF ID tags to bees has enabled researchers to demonstrate the insect’s loss of orientation caused by insecticide residues (shown here, an Apis mellifera). © P. Psa ïla /Double Vue.fr gérard arnold A bee biologist and senior researcher at the “Laboratoire évolution, génomes et spéciation” (LE GS), Arnold is also deputy scientific director at the Institut des Sciences de la Communication du CNRS (ISCC). © ISCC/CNRS


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