Environment: European food safety agency eyes human health impacts of systemic neonicotinoid pesticides

A honeybee gathers pollen on a wildflower in Austria.

A bee gathers pollen on a wildflower in Austria. bberwyn photo.

Are U.S. regulatory agencies putting humans at risk with rushed approval of toxic chemicals?

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — It stands to reason that, if systemic neonicotinoid pesticides are bad for honeybees, they’re probably not too good for people, either. The European Food Safety Authority this week acknowledged the potential humal health threat of the toxic chemical compounds that have already been implicated in the global honeybee die-off.

The agency said that acetamiprid and imidacloprid may have harmful effects on people’s brain development and recommended lowering levels of acceptable exposures. Earlier this year, citing unacceptable hazards to bees — and on the recommendation of the EFSA — the European Union put a two-year moratorium on the use of three widely used neonicotinoids, including imidacloprid.

By contrast, U.S. regulatory agencies bowed to pressure from pesticide manufacturers and agribusiness and rushed approval of the same poisons with barely a second thought.

Specifically, the European agency found that acetamiprid and imidacloprid may adversely affect the development of neurons and brain structures associated with functions such as learning and memory. The science panel advised that all neonicotinoid substances be evaluated as part of this testing strategy.

American environmental advocates said the European decision should give American agencies some pause in their race to permit the use of toxins that have as-yet unknown impacts to human health and the environment.

“It’s well known that neonicotinoids are a key factor in declining bee populations around the world, but today’s announcement from the European Food Safety Authority indicates that there’s also likely cause for concern for human health as well,” said Lex Horan, midwest organizer for the Pesticide Action Network.

“The European Food Safety Authority’s recommendation sheds light on the flawed process of pesticide approval here in the U.S.Neonicotinoids have been heralded as safer alternatives to previous generations of insecticides,” Horan said. “But EFSA’s concern over the neurotoxicity of neonics is a reminder that there’s a great deal we don’t know about these systemic chemicals.

“They were hurried through EPA’s regulatory process with ‘conditional registrations,’ and scientific research continues to reveal more about their harmful effects — on pollinators and beyond. These important, common-sense moves in Europe should prompt EPA to do more to protect bees and kids from pesticides.”

EFSA recognised that the available evidence has limitations and recommends further research be carried out to provide more robust data. However, the PPR Panel said health concerns raised in the review of the existing data are legitimate.

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