Neonicotinoid pesticides not just a threat to bees; humans also at risk

Sunday, January 05, 2014 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: neonicotinoid pesticides, bees, developmental neurotoxicity

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(NaturalNews) A new report issued by the European Food Safety Commission (EFSA) has found that a class of crop pesticides previously linked to causing mass bee deaths is also inherently harmful to humans. Researchers from the EFSA determined that neonicotinoid pesticides -- acetamiprid and imidacloprid in particular -- obstruct the normal development and function of the human nervous system, as well as damage brain structures and functions associated with learning and memory.

The report, which was officially released on December 17, cites evidence demonstrating the neurotoxicity of neonicotinoids in humans, which has gone mostly unstudied. At the request of the European Commission, an expert panel took a closer look at research published last year in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, which blew wide open the existing recommendations on maximum exposure levels to neonicotinoids.

Entitled "Nicotine-like effects of the neonicotinoid insecticides acetamiprid and imidacloprid on cerebellar neurons from neonatal rats," the study found that the current maximums for neonicotinoid exposure are far too liberal. Levels of exposure far below what the EFSA currently says are safe, in other words, actually pose substantial health risks, both in the short and long term.

"The PPR [Plant Protection Products and their Residues] Panel... concluded that some current guidance levels for acceptable exposure to acetamiprid and imidacloprid may not be protective enough to safeguard against developmental neurotoxicity and should be reduced," reads an EFSA press release. "These so-called toxicological reference values provide clear guidance on the level of a substance that consumers can be exposed to in the short- and long-term without an appreciable health risk."

EFSA panel calls for drastic reductions in toxicological reference values

Based on its findings, the panel determined that the current acceptable daily intake (ADI) level, acceptable operator exposure level (AOEL) and acute reference dose (ARfD) for both acetamiprid and imidacloprid are far too high. The ADI and AOEL for acetamiprid should be cut by nearly 70 percent, say experts, while the ARfD should be cut by 75 percent.

Similarly, the AOEL and ARfD for imidacloprid must both be cut by 25 percent in order to protect public health, the report explains. By adjusting all of these factors, the EFSA hopes to establish a more rigorous regulatory protocol for this controversial class of chemicals, not to mention better scrutinize the process by which chemical companies gain approval for their toxic wares.

"We're advising that all neonicotinoid substances be evaluated as part of this testing strategy, providing that they show a similar toxicological profile to the two substances we've assessed in this opinion," James Ramsay, an EFSA spokesman who helped conduct the review, stated to The New York Times.

In other words, the EFSA panel is pushing to establish a new regulatory paradigm that would mandate the submission of developmental neurotoxicity studies in conjunction with all applications seeking approval for new chemicals. Since it is now abundantly clear that neonicotinoids slipped through the cracks as a result of a broken regulatory process, EFSA officials want to essentially fix the process by completely reforming it.

"EFSA... supports the establishment of clear and consistent criteria to trigger the mandatory submission of DNT [developmental neurotoxicity] studies as part of the authorization process in the EU," reads the EFSA press release. "This could include the development of an integrated DNT testing strategy consisting of a stepped approach that uses laboratory tests on cells (so-called in vitro) in the first instance and progresses to tests on animals (in vivo) if the initial results raise concerns over the DNT-potential of a substance."

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