Where does Australia stand on neonicotinoid insecticides?

Since they were introduced, neonicotinoid insecticides ('neonics') have been linked with declining bee populations. Recently, however, neonics have come under fire in Australia after levels of imidacloprid – a generic name for the neonic commonly used in seed treatments like Gaucho and Baytan – were discovered in the bodies of dead parrots in Western Victoria.

In Europe, the threat posed by neonics has been compelling enough for the EU to propose a ban of these popular insecticides across the continent. In light of the recent incident in Victoria, perhaps it's time we take a look at how neonics are used in Australia as well as how our government is regulating them.

You might be surprised by the range of crops neonics are used on. You might be surprised by the range of crops neonics are used on.

What are neonicotinoid insecticides and how are they used?

According to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), "neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides which act on acetylcholine receptors in the nervous systems of insects." Simply put, they work by attacking insects' central nervous system, leading to paralysis and death.

There are eight different neonicotinoids and related compounds, which fall into three categories:

  • N-nitroguanidines: imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, clothianidin and dinotefuran
  • Nitromethylenes: nithiazine, nitenpyram
  • N-cyanoamidines: acetamiprid and thiacloprid

These classifications are important because N-cyanomidines (acetamiprid and thiacloprid) are far less toxic to bees, according to the APVMA.

Neonicotinoids are used to control insect pests in a massive range of crops, including: 

  • Canola
  • Cereals
  • Cotton
  • Lentils
  • Sweetcorn
  • Sunflower
  • Strawberries
  • Kale

Although controversial, it's clear that these insecticides are extremely widely used and that many crop growers rely on them to keep their plants healthy and pest free. 

The big debate on neonics

Many farmers and growers, however, stand by the use of neonics. After all, they are some of the most effective pesticides for controlling pests like aphids, flies, hopping insects, and beetle pests. The first neonic to hit the market, imidacloprid, is currently the most commonly used insecticide in the world, according to the APVMA. 

Neonics are also incredibly versatile. In Australia, neonics have a range of applications including:

  • Seed treatments
  • Foliar spraying
  • Soil spraying
  • Soil incorporation of granules
  • Soil drench
  • Stem applications 

Neonics can also protect plants throughout the duration of the growing season without requiring respray because they are not prone to washing off during water and can stand up to UV light degradation.

According to the APVMA, "when compared with [older insecticides], neonicotinoids pose lower risks to humans and other mammals." That's because neonics are designed to attach much more strongly to the receptors in the nervous systems of insects, and not mammals. Further, they leave very little residue on the surface of plants, making them less harmful to farmers.

Neonics are designed to be less harmful to humans and other mammals. Neonics are designed to be less harmful to humans and other mammals.

Still, however, there is a large body of scientific research that links neonics to pollinator health and shrinking bee populations.

Certain insecticides have been implicated more others, leading to bans all around the world. As a farmer and grower, it's critical to follow the scientific community carefully and ensure that the insecticides you spray are only harming the pests you want them to.

Having multi peril crop insurance that will cover you in cases of insect infestation is also essential. Our Primeguard Multi Peril Crop Insurance understands the serious risk infestation can pose to a farmer's livelihood. To find out about this solution and others, check out our product catalogue.