Earlier in July, EU Member states backed a proposal from the European Commission to restrict certain uses of the insecticide fipronil, which is used as a seed dressing. The basis of the restriction is a study from EFSA published on 27 May 2013 that highlighted a risk to honeybees from dust arising from maize seed drilling. This concern over unacceptable risk to honey bees mirrors the recent restriction of neonicotinoid actives thiamethoxam, clothianidin and imidacloprid.
Spain is by far the biggest user of fipronil in the EU (90%) and, along with Romania, it voted against the proposals. Three member states, including the UK, abstained in the vote. A Defra spokesman said: "There were concerns that the proposals were not based on sound scientific evidence".
In the UK there are currently no approvals for fipronil, however fipronil treated seed is imported into the UK. Most of this imported seed is treated with the product Mundial, which is approved in other EU member states for use on leeks, shallots, onions and a range of brassicas. There will be no restrictions on use of fipronil on glasshouse crops or on field vegetables that are harvested before flowering, which the NFU understands will mean the main uses of fipronil (as the product Mundial) in the UK will be exempt from restriction.
The main effects of the restriction are on seed treatments for sunflower and maize, with the main plant protection products affected being Regent 500FS and Cosmos 500FS. The NFU understands that the use of these products by UK growers is negligible. Seeds already treated with fipronil may be sown until 28 February 2014, and a review of this regulatory change is expected in 2016, subject to new evidence becoming available.