Neonicotinoids Knocked Again

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In 2012 we learned that a class of relatively new, nicotine-derived pesticides called neonicotinoids are linked to honeybee die-offs across the world. Now, European food safety experts are saying that two such pesticides may also affect human health and harm the brain development of unborn babies.

Scientists at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have called for further limits on human exposure to the two chemicals, which are designed to attack the nervous system of insects. An EFSA statement released in December said experts had found that the pesticides "may adversely affect the development of neurons and brain structures associated with functions such as learning and memory" in humans and that "some current guidance levels for acceptable exposure may not be protective enough to safeguard against developmental neurotoxicity and should be reduced."

EFSA cited a 2012 paper by a Tokyo-based team as shaping its thinking. That paper, published in PLOS ONE by Junko Kimura-Kuroda of the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science, found that one of the pesticides, imidacloprid--an insecticide widely used in agricultural and consumer goods--was associated with brain shrinkage and reduced activity in nerve signals in newborn rats. The other, acetamiprid, led to reduced weight and reaction times. EFSA said more work was needed to assess the risk to human health posed by neonicotinoids, but added that health concerns are legitimate.

Imidacloprid is among the three neonicotinoids that the European Union placed a temporary ban on in 2012 because of concerns they are harming pollinators. …