Neonicotinoids in Australia by Jeffrey Gibbs


To Australian Beekeepers from an Australian Beekeeper


To respectfully include the outsider, I have to start with an explanation. Australian Beekeepers are very secretive; they tell you about the honey flow when it is in the drum. When called for, general information sharing is thorough, very effective and quick; there are many Australian Beekeepers that can tell you about honey flows and problems from South Australia to Queensland in overnight conversations.

They cover vast areas of country searching honey. Each Beekeeper has one or two other Beekeepers entrusted with information closer to home. Our Beekeepers in Australia often don’t go to meetings because they have bees to run. Mistrust for Authority runs rife, regulations are considered an extra burden, most Beekeepers like to be out on the bees in preference to other duties. The rest, like taxation, the marketing and selling of their honey, wiring frames and filling out forms, is often faithfully left to others. Australian Beekeepers are consistent in answers to questions when you ask them ‘How do you feel about being left out of National Parks?’ or ‘What has the Government done to help you in your plight?’ Beekeepers have left a lot of important decisions in the hands of others, at times to the detriment of the Honey Industry, because they are busy running bees.

Australian Beekeepers are geniuses, from the Hills Hoist to International Beehive Loaders, their methods are respected worldwide; they come up with methods for dealing with everything from the Small hive beetle, twenty-four years drought, the importation of cheaper honeys, EFB, AFB, Chalk Brood, Nosema, failing queens and bees, failing seasons and recent vast floods to start the ball rolling. The remaining Beekeepers in Australia are very knowledgeable and hardy of character. Mostly these Beekeepers know their own beekeeping country and bees like the back of their hand. Australian Beekeepers are standing as the last Mohicians as far as the Varroa Mite is concerned, worldwide.

This article concerns the introduction of NEONICOTINOIDS into Australia, it is written to Australian Beekeepers, in beekeepers’ language. It is understood that over the last 15 years, there have been many reasons why Australian beehive numbers have deteriorated to less than 50% of what they were 20 years ago. The importation of inferior honey, the hive beetle, bee diseases and insecticides have all played a role. Beekeepers have been known to fib about hive numbers too, because they see it as a personal reflection on their ability to keep strong healthy hives and numbers.

This article is to keep Australian Beekeepers up to speed on what some Beekeepers are experiencing overseas with NEONICS, and what we are hearing now, and to urge them to keep an eye out in their own country.


Almost all Australian Commercial Beekeepers can recall cleaning moths from truck windscreens when shifting bees and chasing honey flows. On some warm nights the moths would get so bad, that you needed to pull over and clean the screen so that you could see out of it. According to Tom Theobald a Colorado Beekeeper, a couple of weeks ago approaching USA summer, you could drive for hundreds of miles in some corn and grain belts in the USA, barely making contact with an insect.

There is a consistent line of thought among some Beekeepers in the USA, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, the Netherlands and more, that massive losses of bees and insects in their respective countries may be contributed to by the use of microscopic doses of Systemic Insecticides, coming under the very hard name to pronounce Neonicotinoid (NEONICS). Fungicides sometimes act together with the Neonics to increase this effect.

In Australia, there are presently 37 registered NEONIC insecticides using IMIDACLOPRID and CLOTHIANIDIN. IMIDACLOPRID has been registered and in use since the mid 90’s. In the USA there are over 600 registered NEONIC products now. USA and Europe are two of the biggest markets for pesticides. According to regulations supplied by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority [APVMA], IMIDACLOPRID and CLOTHIANIDIN are registered for use within bounds of product label, to control insects on a wide variety of plant life in Australia including: cotton, maize, sorghum, sunflower, sweet corn, sugarcane, canola, seed pastures and grasses such as rye grass, fescus and pharalaris, clovers such as subterranean, white, and strawberry, lucernes, stone fruit, potatoes, turnips, swedes, kales, capsicums, eggplants, tomatoes, apples, pears, cabbages, cucumbers, roses, bananas, eucalypt seedlings, turf, lawns and gardens.

These systemic insecticides are ‘Very Highly Toxic to Adult Bees’ and ‘among the most toxic of all insecticides to bees’. Studies on the adverse effect of sub-lethal doses on larval development have only just hit the world radar, and are not included in any statements or advice on pesticide labels.

As far as I have been able to find, there are no field test results on bee contamination/IMIDACLOPRID for public viewing in Australia. The APVMA has issued a recent change to labelling warning of high toxicity to bees. You can purchase NEONICS in Bunnings, Woolworths, Coles, the local hardware and Rural Co Operatives, Elders and Landmark, Cotton Seed Merchants, most other seed merchants and the like. Usage requires no licence. When asked about the amount of canola seed that was treated with GAUCHO at Landmark Tamworth, the Seed Merchant replied ‘Almost all of the canola seed is now being seed treated with GAUCHO {IMIDACLOPRID} and a fair bit of the pasture seed as well’. The employee was sympathetic and largely unaware of any potential danger to bees, I would like to think that farmers also would show concern, if they thought that they might be hurting your bees. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the USA, some of these NEONIC sprays have a half-life of up to nineteen years in heavy soils and are soluble in water.

It is fair to say that these systemic insecticides are very successful at reducing insect numbers, their use as a seed treatment also decreases the need for open spraying of the plant. Most if not all GMO crops are seed treated with NEONICS. In recent years the use of NEONICS has increased dramatically in Europe, the USA and Australia. NEONICS are now the widest used insecticides ever. A product developed by the German Company Bayer, IMIDACLOPRID was Bayer’s largest selling chemical in 2009, but it was suspended in Germany when a Beekeeper accidently received a misting (due, I understand, to negligent application).

There are 92 million acres of NEONIC seed treated corn alone in the USA. In a recent United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report on bee deaths, the pesticides PONCHO (CLOTHIANIDIN) and GAUCHO [IMIDACLOPRID] pose numerous risks, –‘systemic insecticides, such as those used as seed coatings, which migrate from the roots through the entire plant, all the way to the flowers, can potentially cause toxic chronic exposure to non-target pollinators. Laboratory studies have shown that such chemicals can cause losses of sense of direction, impair memory and brain metabolism and cause mortality.’

In a hypothesis on the present widespread and growing Immune Deficiency Disease in wildlife in the USA and Europe, Rosemary Mason (MB, Ch, B, FRCA and PALLE, UHD, JEPSEN Former Senior Advisory in Nature Conservation in the Danish Forest and Nature Agency) begins “On honey bees in Europe and the USA, we have been pondering on the significance of the laboratory evidence from Bee Researchers in France and USA, that the administration of tiny amounts of systemic Neonicotinoid IMIDACLOPRID tocolony collapse disorder [CCD] bees, was associated with a weakening of bee immunity, such that they become more susceptible to bee diseases.” The hypothesis includes dramatic disappearances and deaths amongst managed bee colonies, moths, bats, bumblebees, butterflies, wild bees, hover flies, frogs, and many species of finch in the UK and Europe, among others.

NEONICS aremade from Chlorinated Nicotine Compounds, they work via the vascular system of the plant, IMIDACLOPRID acts by blocking the activity of nerves in the peripheral and central nervous systems of the insect, and is administered by seed treatment, ground and aerial application, soil drenching, transplant drenching, foliar application and in some lawn applications, even by hosing it on. NEONICS are accumulative in bees. Miniscule amounts kill bees. Some studies and Beekeepers are mentioning one part per trillion, others are shy using terms like ‘undetectable amounts’. Recent studies in Italy were concerned over the sub-lethal affects on bees from early morning dew droplets on NEONIC seed treated corn plants. Reportably, dew drops alone were enough to affect or kill bees.         

There are contemporary Beekeeper concerns in the USA and Europe over the levels of IMIDACLOPRID found in groundwater samples. Dr Henk Tennekes, concerned at the spreading use of NEONICS in the Netherlands, reported on the collapse of insect and bird populations across huge areas of the arable croplands of Holland. The Dutch Water Board has found concentrations of IMIDACLOPRID in streams and ponds near the bulb growing areas, which are 4-5,000 times above the legal limit for IMIDACLOPRID. In the USA, water has been contaminated with IMIDACLOPRID in pools, streams, private wells, wells on golf courses etc. When speaking about the potential damage to his bees through water contamination of IMIDACLOPRID in the USA, Tom Theobald of Colorado, a Beekeeper of thirty-six years and a spokesperson for the Boulder County Beekeepers Association said, “It’s my view that Beekeepers cannot survive the environment that has been thrust upon them.” 

Last October, I was helping Jack Alt of Deepwater, New South Wales shift a sizable load of bees, from a NEONIC seed treated canola plot at Premer NSW. We were shifting the bees back onto clover, closer to Jack’s home. Although the bees had been on a bumper crop of canola, Jack was disturbed that his load of 250 hives had suffered premature swarming, loss of queens, loss of bee numbers and dead outs. Jack then replaced queens, kept working the bees (as we all would), and kept the load on clover for the next few weeks. I observed the same hives later on a Silver Leaf [Iron Bark] flow. In my opinion they were half the bees they should have been, or less.  This was Jack’s second Adverse Experience with his bees foraging canola over the last two years. I asked Jack “Do you think that this may be because of the seed treatment on canola?” Jack replied, “I don’t think we’ll be working canola anymore.” Jack is concerned about the pollen of Turnip Weed and Salvation Jane coming up afterwards, in the same paddocks.

Brad Johnston, of Gunnedah NSW, has been watching the GAUCHO seed treated canola crops even closer. He is right in amongst it. Brad spoke of similar conditions while working canola in the last few years, such as premature swarming, too many queenless hives, dead outs and his hives being persistently down in numbers. “The bees take ages to come back up.” When asked of his experiences with canola, Brad commented, “When we first started to work canola in the mid-nineties, we would get two or three boxes and boiling bees for the most of it, now we’re running from canola. I’m not a scientist, but the last couple of years we have stayed away from canola and we have had the best bees we’ve had for years.” I asked Brad, “How many Beekeepers in his area feel this way about canola now?” Brad answered, “All of them.”

The most outspoken Beekeeper in Australia concerning NEONICS is Warren Jones of Dubbo.Hhe is in the middle of the pollination industry, based in Dubbo. Convinced that NEONICS are a daily threat to his bees and speaking personally about damage to his bees from NEONICS, Warren shoots information at you like a Gatling gun. I could barely keep up; talking on the subject of NEONICS he fired broad preposterous accusations such as “It involves 85% of Australian Agriculture” and “The APVMA hates me” and “8 million fish a day, dead over the Bourke weir in the recent floods” and “This Government hasn’t got the technology we need to test for NEONICS properly, we need the same as they have in the USA”. Beekeepers can tend to exaggerate but I didn’t sleep that night, I love bees and Warren’s Gatling gunwas rattling in my mind – 8 million fish a day?


Just on spec, first thing next morning I picked up the phone to Bourke NSW Agriculture, and was told “It was phenomenal, you couldn’t see the water, there were carp gasping for breath and crayfish crawling out onto the banks.” The whole town is alive with the story. The Bourke Shire Council information sheet – Darling River Fish Kill Event: “Significant numbers of dead and stressed fish were reported to be in the Darling River passing Bourke Township on Friday, 11th March, 2011.” 


The r:eply:  “It is impossible to estimate exact numbers. On Sunday, Geoff Wise made a rough estimate that 100 fish on the water surface either dead or gasping for oxygen were passing the Bourke wharf every second. This excluded fish under approximately 30mm in length, and any below visibility level. 100 per second equates to 8,640,000 per day. Five days at this rate equate to approximately 40 million.”

So Warren Jones’ figure of 8 million fish a day was likely to be an underestimate, if you include fish not counted in the estimate by Geoff Wise. A more accurate figure of 16 million dead fish a day were going over the Bourke Weir just a couple of months ago, if you count the fingerlings. Beekeeper Warren Jones believes the fish kill was because of the vast use of NEONICS [water soluble], coming out of intensive agriculture dry land, after a good flush out by the floods. Remember that half-life of nineteen years in the soil? Warren Jones is an expert on Australian Pollination Services, he makes his living with his bees around NEONICS on almost a daily level, and he is seeing what it does to his bees and the environment.

The township of Bourke will tell you that cotton is the main crop around town and they’re glad to see the harvest in, it means a lot to Bourke; they are in need of an economic boost and vulnerable after the drought. The cotton in the area is over 95% seed treated GMO. Robert Eveleigh, of Cotton Seed Distributors (CSD) confirms 96% of the seed treatment is NEONICS. The official line on what killed the fish is “black water, very low dissolved oxygen water, unavoidable and untreatable. This natural event is occurring the entire length of the local river system.” I have asked the Bourke Land and Water Conservation if they could get back to me, whether the water has been tested for IMIDACLOPRID and questioned why the crayfish were trying to escape the water, seeing it was only due to lack of oxygen. There must be a lot of IMIDACLOPRID in the Murray Darling now after the big wet, it makes you wonder about the insects downstream in the wetlands of our largest river system, as well as the safety of our bees, birds and fish. Microscopic amounts will kill bees.


The APVMA is duty bound to protect the Beekeeping Industry of Australia in its role concerning chemical pesticides. It is also in the public interest to re-evaluate any pesticide that may be harming bees or the environment on mass in Australia. The APVMA have made it clear that for the APVMA to be advised of a potential risk to bees, the Beekeeper must advise the APVMA of any adverse experience with their bees and insecticides, via an AERP Form. There is no space on the AERP Form for bees. I was told “…. if you write ‘bees’ in the species section, even though this says (animals only) we will understand what this means.” The APVMA doesn’t get many Adverse Experience Reports from Beekeepers, that’s for sure.

Getting an Australian Beekeeper to report any adverse finding is all but impossible and herein lies a deep problem with early detection of potential chemical threats in Australia, because bees are often the first to be affected. In the words of Bill Winner, now the Beekeeping Services Manager of Capilano Honey, [Bill has been at Capilano since 1991, Capilano has been one of the major spokesgroups for Beekeepers in Australia for more than 50 years] “If you ask 100 beekeepers to fill out an Adverse Experience Report, you will be lucky to get two of them who will”.

In fact, there is not one report of a beekeeper having registered an Adverse Experience Report (AERP) concerning NEONICS in Australia, not one. Every Australian Commercial Beekeeper’s bees have been sprayed by this or that insecticide, some of them many times, There are few AERP reports in parity. The AERP system of the APVMA to register bee mortalities, dead queens and low numbers in hives throughout Australia is flawed. Beekeepers won’t report, ask their Associations they will tell you the same.

Beekeepers can report any findings any time they choose to the APVMA, or to their local Apiarist Association. I welcome all Beekeepers to report any insecticide problem to my humble little office, in Beekeepers language, however, if we are down to this we’re in trouble.

Phone your problem to: Northern Light – 02 66 288977. According to Bill’s maths I’ll only get a few calls.

On an upnote, I can see pollination services reaching $250 per hive much more sooner than later, presently the world’s supplies of bees are at an all time cliff drop in supply, since the mid 90’s.

The Beekeepers in the USA are ahead of Australian Beekeepers at extracting better prices for pollination services and also at dealing with the adverse affects of NEONICS, I asked Tom Haefeli of Colorado, if he could talk about his experiences as a Beekeeper living with the rapid rise of Neonicotinoids in his Beekeeping areas. Tom belongs to one of the oldest and most well known Beekeeping families in the USA. I’ll close with his reply:

“We started seeing our problems while pollinating Canola. This is GMO Canola produced from Roundup-ready seeds. We stopped the Canola pollination 5 years ago. We also send the bees to California for the Almond season. We have a verifiable instance of direct application of Neonics and brood death. To give the Grower credit, he applied the product (a fungicide) at night. The next day, however, was a beautiful, warm day. Lots of bee action. All of the unsealed brood died and the colonies stayed broodless for several weeks. I am now seeing roughly 50% queenless in those colonies.

Pre-Neonic, we used to easily run 5000 colonies. Roughly 10 years later, I am now looking at less than 2000 after the Almond season, and half of those do not look good at all.

I have since found out that almost all Ag operations (potato, barley, alfalfa) here in Southern Colorado are using some form of Neonic application.  My contention is that the Neonics are appearing in the surface water and there is literally nowhere for the bees to get away from it. I approached the local water testing firm to set up a small scale test. I was told “NO WAY”. The firm wanted no part of what they might find.

Good luck to you.

Tom Haefeli.”



The NRA is an independent Statutory Authority with responsibility for the assessment and approval of agricultural and veterinary chemical products prior to sale and use in Australia.

NEONICOTINOIDS were first registered in Australia in 1993.

In the public release document from the NRA on IMIDACLOPRID in the product CONFIDOR are directions for use on stone fruit, potatoes, capsicums, eggplants, tomatoes and roses. The maximum withholding period is three weeks. Do not feed produce harvested from treated areas to animals, including poultry. On tomatoes, someone is out there picking them three days after they have been sprayed.

Wildlife, fish, crustaceans and the environment. ‘Do not contaminate streams, rivers waterways or drains with this chemical or used containers.’

As may be expected for an insecticide, hazard to bees is high. The label warns that use of CONFIDOR represents an acute hazard to bees, and restrains application to any plants in bloom while bees are foraging.

IMIDACLOPRID may be applied to: cotton, stone fruit, cabbage, grey cabbage aphid, sweet potato, cucumber, turf, pananus trees, eucalypt seedlings


IMIDACLOPRID acts by blocking the activity of nerves in the peripheral and central nervous systems.



For the control of aphids and mirids in cotton and for the control of rust thrips and weevil borer in bananas and for the control of woolly aphid in apples; mealybugs and codling moth in apples and in pears and green peach aphid and oriental fruit moth in peaches and nectarines. Also for the control of African black beetle larvae.

In plants CLOTHIANIDIN is the predominant residue observed across all crops tested, following a range of routes of Methylguanidine (MG) and METHYLNITROGUANIDINE (MNG), constituted the largest proportion of the minor metabolites observed.


Growing plants are able to take up CLOTHIANIDIN in areas where no treatment has occurred in the last year. (Department of the Environment and Water Resources report on CLOTHIANIDIN)             


The APVMA states, “To date we see no casual evidence in Australia that would lead us to review the regularity status of CLOTHIANIDIN. If you and your beekeeper networks feel there is, we need you to report adverse experiences to us via the adverse experience reporting program and also notify your industry association of your concerns”.

“About whether we have received any reports for Clothiandin, we can confirm we have not received any”.

According to APVMA records there has not been one adverse experience report from either the public or beekeepers concerning the use of the Neonicotinoid CLOTHIANIDIN.

Author: Jeffery Gibbs, Beeswax Australia and Northern Light Candle company owner and founder


Read part two here.