New report on neonicotinoids

Published on
March 3, 2023

Halving the use of plant protection products in agriculture, such as neonicotinoids, is part of the EU's "Farm to Fork" strategy. In a new report, the Scientific Advisory Board of the European Academies (EASAC) evaluates recent research on the effects of neonicotinoids and its implications for the current debate. One of the report compilers is researcher Claudia Lima e Silva of Wageningen University & Research.

The report summarises the results of research in recent years and strengthens earlier conclusions in EASAC’s 2015 review on the wider ecosystem effects of neonicotinoids. This supports the continuation of existing restrictions and of measures to minimise future use—especially to mitigate the threat to future food security from the continued decline in insects (including pollinators).

Loophole: emergency authorisations

EASAC cautions against the persistence of loopholes that undermine the initial
regulatory action. The first loophole is that using emergency authorisations to
continue the use of banned neonics has become a habit for some countries - especially for controlling flea beetle in oilseed rape and in sugar beet to avoid yellow leaf virus. The European Court recently ruled that such trends do not meet the Commission’s guidance that emergency authorisations should be a last resort.

An ever-faster race towards new toxins

The second loophole is the development of neonicotinoid substitutes that exploit the same insect neural mechanisms. With similar mechanisms, there is a risk that they will become ‘regrettable substitutions’ whose impacts turn out to be similar to, or worse than, the neonicotinoids they are designed to replace. Caution is thus needed in evaluating new molecules that inhibit nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. It should be assumed that similar broad ecosystem effects may occur unless applicants demonstrate otherwise when applying for regulatory approval.

Integrated Pest Management not in conflict with food security

Ultimately, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) needs to become the mainstream approach if the objectives of the Green Deal are to be met. Evidence that IPM is not in conflict with food security is thus critical in persuading Member States to support the Commission’s proposals, especially following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In the latter context, in reducing the need for chemical fertilisers and plant protection products, IPM could improve agriculture’s resistance to such supply shocks.

Reinforce regulations and testing processes

“This policy debate is vitally important. Even with the EU’s target of reducing the toxic load by 50 percent, we still have a long way to go before we approach genuinely sustainable agriculture. But without reinforcing regulations and testing processes, we will not even get close to it,” concludes Cláudia de Lima e Silva, researcher at Wageningen University and Research. “We encourage industry to focus on the opportunities for supporting IPM and move away from mass sales in conventional agriculture.”

About the European Academies' Science Advisory Council (EASAC)

EASAC is formed by the national science academies of the EU Member States, Norway, Switzerland and United Kingdom, to collaborate in giving advice to European policymakers. EASAC provides a means for the collective voice of European science to be heard. Through EASAC, the academies work together to provide independent, expert, evidence-based advice about the scientific aspects of European policies to those who make or influence policy within the European institutions. More information: