The European Union’s European Food Safety Authority issued its report on the risks to honey bees from fipronil seed treatments used on corn. EFSA was asked to perform a risk assessment of fipronil, with a particular focus on the acute and chronic effects on colony survival and development and the effects of sublethal doses on bee mortality and behavior.

EFSA concluded the following:

  • Risk from dust drift: A high acute risk was identified for maize. For other field crops, including sunflower, full risk assessments could not be completed so the level of risk from exposure to dust originating from seed drilling could not be established.
  • Nectar and pollen: The available studies – field and semi-field – had weaknesses and thus were insufficient to establish the level of risk to honey bees from the use of fipronil as a treatment for sunflower and maize seed. However, there was deemed to be a low risk to honey bees from the authorized use of fipronil on vegetables, as these cannot be foraged for pollen and nectar.
  • Several gaps were identified in the available data related to other potential routes of exposure.

BASF commented on the EFSA’s assessment, saying the assessment does not highlight any new risk to bee health from approves uses of the insecticide fipronil. BASF concluded that banning the use of fipronil would not protect bee health, and said the assessment failed to take into account the multiple complex factors related to bee health.

“Bees play an important role in agriculture, as they are major pollinators for plants and crops. Our business is very dependent on bees; therefore, it is in our best interest to understand the real causes of the decline in bee health and act upon them”, said Jürgen Oldeweme, senior vice president global product safety and regulatory affairs for BASF’s Crop Protection division. “Nonetheless, the problem of declining bee health must be addressed via a holistic approach and not by singling out certain technologies that have a solid record of safe use, such as fipronil.”

BASF also points out that EFSA’s latest risk assessment regarding fipronil focuses heavily on new technical areas for which no established evaluation criteria are yet available. No cases of bee mortality have been attributed to the application of fipronil seed treatment products, when used according to approved label instructions. “By restricting the use of fipronil-based products, European authorities will not accomplish their goal of preserving bee health. Instead, it will add one more restriction and limitation to growers and the overall food production in Europe,” added Oldeweme.

BASF has been actively supporting research projects that investigate problems related to bee health.

“We are open to discuss with EFSA and the European Commission which additional studies and measures can be performed to further ensure protection of bees. We support any reasonable data gathering that can lead us in this direction,” concluded Oldeweme. BASF has also taken a proactive step by introducing innovative application technologies for fipronil-based products.