NEW Zealand's Environmental Protection Authority is stepping up its requirements for a higher level of scientific evidence regarding the safety and effects of new pesticides before considering them for approval.
The decision follows an International Union for Conservation of Nature review of research into systemic pesticides that concluded a group known as neonicotinoids posed a serious risk to birds, honey bees and other pollinators, and a wide range of invertebrates, including earthworms. The international analysis of 800 peer-reviewed scientific reports has confirmed fears of beekeepers throughout the world that long-term exposure to systemic pesticides at low, non- lethal levels could be harmful to bees and a factor in declining bee populations overseas.
Neonicotinoids have been linked by several scientific reports to significant unexplained losses of bee populations, known as colony collapse disorder or CCD, in the United States and Europe.
Beekeepers believe foraging bees pick up minute traces of systemic pesticides in the plant's nectar and pollen which is transferred back to the hive and may affect their navigation and memory, resulting in whole bee colonies disappearing.
In response to questions from NZ Farmer, EPA communications staff said the IUCN task force took the unusual step of publicising its conclusions before publishing its study.
"When the study is published, the EPA will be able to review the information and assess its relevance to New Zealand," it said in a written response.
However, in line with overseas regulators in the US and Europe, the EPA said: "We are updating our requirements of applicants seeking our approval to allow new pesticides to be used in New Zealand. We are demanding a high level of scientific evidence about the safety and effect of such products before considering them for approval."
Recently the EPA said it declined an application for a seed treatment product where the applicant was unable to demonstrate that it could be used safely in relation to bees.
The authority had been liaising closely with the National Beekeepers Association on this issue for the past few years, staff said. The authority confirmed that specific restrictions had been added to products containing neonicotinoids to minimise the risk to insect pollinators.
For example, the EPA prohibits the use of neonicotinoids in areas where bees are foraging or on plants and trees while they are in flower. The European Union has restricted the use of three neonicotinoid compounds - clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam - for two years from December 2013.
The restriction only applies to their use for seed treatment, soil application and foliar treatment on plants and cereals attractive to bees during flowering.
The EPA says New Zealand already has similar restrictions in place on foliar treatments, prohibiting the use of neonicotinoids and other harmful insecticides on flowering plants or in areas where bees are foraging.
The three EU restricted compounds are sold in New Zealand under various trade names where they are widely used as pesticide treatments on kiwifruit, pipfruit, potatoes, maize, sweetcorn, forage brassicas, cereals, winter squash, pumpkins, grass and clover seed.
Meanwhile a lobby group representing New Zealand agricultural chemical manufacturers and retailers (Agcarm) maintains there is no scientific evidence that neonicotinoids are causing harm to bees in this country.
Agcarm chief executive Graeme Peters said the crop protection industry takes its responsibility towards pollinators seriously and recognises the vital role they play in global food production.
He said the task force report on systemic pesticides was not new research, but rather "a selective review of existing studies which highlighted worst case scenarios, largely produced under laboratory conditions."
Peters said the scientists responsible for the research are part of a movement whose objective is to restrict or ban the use of neonicotinoid technology regardless of what the evidence may show.
"There is no scientific evidence that neonicotinoids are causing harm to bees in New Zealand," he said. "More than 100 studies have concluded that when used according to instructions on the labels, neonicotinoids are not harmful to bee colonies."
- NZ Farmer