The environmental risks of neonicotinoid pesticides: a review of the evidence post 2013

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2017 Jul;24(21):17285-17325. doi: 10.1007/s11356-017-9240-x. Epub 2017 Jun 7.


Neonicotinoid pesticides were first introduced in the mid-1990s, and since then, their use has grown rapidly. They are now the most widely used class of insecticides in the world, with the majority of applications coming from seed dressings. Neonicotinoids are water-soluble, and so can be taken up by a developing plant and can be found inside vascular tissues and foliage, providing protection against herbivorous insects. However, only approximately 5% of the neonicotinoid active ingredient is taken up by crop plants and most instead disperses into the wider environment. Since the mid-2000s, several studies raised concerns that neonicotinoids may be having a negative effect on non-target organisms, in particular on honeybees and bumblebees. In response to these studies, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was commissioned to produce risk assessments for the use of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam and their impact on bees. These risk assessments concluded that the use of these compounds on certain flowering crops poses a high risk to bees. On the basis of these findings, the European Union adopted a partial ban on these substances in May 2013. The purpose of the present paper is to collate and summarise scientific evidence published since 2013 that investigates the impact of neonicotinoids on non-target organisms. Whilst much of the recent work has focused on the impact of neonicotinoids on bees, a growing body of evidence demonstrates that persistent, low levels of neonicotinoids can have negative impacts on a wide range of free-living organisms.

Keywords: Bees; European Food Safety Authority; Freshwater habitats; Invertebrates; Neonicotinoid pesticides; Neonicotinoids; Non-target organisms; Residues.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees*
  • Crops, Agricultural
  • Environment
  • Insecta
  • Insecticides
  • Nitro Compounds
  • Pesticides / toxicity*


  • Insecticides
  • Nitro Compounds
  • Pesticides