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Protecting our pollinators

bee and flowerOctober 2017 

Bees produce honey and pollinate many food crops. They also work on garden flowers and vegetables – they are an important natural asset to our environment.

In New Zealand the EPA protects bees and other pollinators, such as moths, butterflies, hoverflies and birds, by setting the rules around when, how and where insecticides should be used. 

These rules apply whether the insecticide is for use in your garden, or in bigger agricultural or horticultural settings. Label information is printed on all insecticides, whether you buy yours at the supermarket, garden centre or trade outlet; whether the product is ‘natural’ (for example, a derris dust or pyrethrin) or created in a laboratory.  

Follow the rules to keep pollinators safe

The rules around insecticide use need to be followed to ensure the product remains effective in controlling those insects that attack our plants, yet keeps bees and other pollinators safe and free from harm.

In New Zealand strict regulations have been in place for many years around the use of a class of insecticides that contain neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are systemic insecticides. This means they move around plant tissues to protect the entire plant from insects. They are used to control insects that can damage some fruit, ornamental, cereal and vegetable crops. They are also used as a seed treatment in maize or cereals (which are wind-pollinated) to help crops become established.

Neonicotinoids have been available for use in New Zealand and Australia for more than 20 years.  Like many chemicals, they come with risks as well as benefits. As we are New Zealand’s environmental regulator, it is the Environmental Protection Authority’s job to manage those risks.

We do that by setting rules around neonicotinoid use that include special measures solely to protect bees.

  • These rules include:

  • No spraying near hives. 

  • No spraying on crops likely to be visited by bees, or when bees are foraging.

  • No spraying when flowering crops or weeds are present in the treated area.

  • Avoid spraying budding or flowering plants. (This restriction means users cannot use neonicotinoids on plants that are in flower, or even those that are going to flower soon.)

Most importantly, they must not be used on flowering crops.​

Protecting our environment 

At the EPA we take our responsibility to protect the environment very seriously. We review international developments and are always on the alert for research that might indicate our New Zealand rules around the use of neonicotinoid insecticides need to be tightened. In addition we work closely with Apiculture New Zealand and the Bee Industry Group to monitor the welfare of bees.

You may have read that the European Union (EU) has banned neonicotinoid insecticides. This is not correct. The EU has restricted the use of three neonicotinoid insecticides: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam in response to concerns about colony collapse disorder. Colony collapse disorder has not been seen in New Zealand and the EPA is confident that the rules we place on neonicotinoids adequately protect our pollinators. 

Keeping watch over Aotearoa

We require applicants seeking approval for a new substance, such as a neonicotinoid, to provide robust data about its composition and proposed use. We also demand a high level of scientific evidence about its safety and effect before considering whether or not to approve it.

In June 2014, the EPA declined an application for a seed treatment that contained a neonicotinoid because the applicant was unable to demonstrate that it could be used in a way that would provide sufficient protection to people and the environment.

If a neonicotinoid is approved for use, we continue to monitor international developments and the latest available research to keep up to date with information in connection with it. We also keep in contact with key stakeholders concerned about the wellbeing of pollinators.

If there was a growing body of evidence that a neonicotinoid insecticide was causing harm in New Zealand, or if an overseas regulator banned a neonicotinoid, the EPA could reassess it, to see if it should continue to be used here. A reassessment can result in an approval being cancelled or having more strict rules placed on how, where and when the neonicotinoid might be used.​ 

Our world-wide approach

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has initiated the Pollinator Incidents Information System to record and share pollinator incidents with regulators throughout the OECD.

As an OECD member country, New Zealand has introduced this system to monitor the situation here. The EPA has taken responsibility for reporting pollinator incidents back to the OECD. This system will enable us to compare what’s happening in New Zealand with other countries, and to identify whether we need to take a different course of action to ensure our pollinators are protected.

To meet this commitment, the EPA needs help from beekeepers and others who observe a pollinator incident to report it as quickly as possible. 

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