Neonicotinoids in New Zealand Agriculture

Monday, 30 April 2018


Neonicotinoids (neonics) are a group of modern insecticides noted for their effective insect control but low toxicity in humans and other mammals.

Discussions regarding neonics have been frequent in the European media over the past year as the European Union look to ban use outdoors of neonic insecticides (clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam) in a move to protect the health of the bee population.

The use of neonics in New Zealand is very heavily regulated by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).  ‘The way these insecticides are used in New Zealand are very different to in Europe and they are used on a much smaller scale’ (Dr Thomson-Carter, EPA, 29 April 2018 EPA to review insecticide thought to kill bees). 

The European assessment on the impact of neonics on bees cannot simply be applied to New Zealand’s situation.  Firstly, many of our native honeys are wild gathered crops such as Manuka, with our honey harvested by-and-large from hill country and bush which is not affected by pesticide use.  Second, there are a lot of differences to the way in which neonics are used in New Zealand including the crops grown, the way we grow our crops and our regulatory framework.

Manuka Health has a strict quality testing process that ensures all honey is tested for a range of parameters including microbiology, toxins, sugars, pollen, moisture content, flavour, colour and enzyme activity. This ensures all honey entering our packing facility and all finished batches leaving are of the highest quality.

The most significant protection to our Manuka Health Manuka honey is our hive placement – we access remote, pristine environments that are away from agricultural land, therefore there is very little risk of herbicides and pesticides being present in the environment.

New Zealand enjoys a healthy and growing bee population, carefully managed by New Zealand beekeepers and overseen by a robust regulatory framework.


What are Neonics?

Neonics are systemic and, when applied to the seed or the roots (as a soil drench), protect the plant from insect attack. There are several neonic insecticides which can be used as foliar sprays, but their use is limited.


What is the history?

Neonics have been available for use in New Zealand and Australia for more than 20 years. Like most chemicals, they come with risks as well as benefits;

In New Zealand strict regulations have been in place for many years around the use of a class of insecticides that contain neonics.  New Zealand are also governed by two government agencies who regulate to protect the bees and food sources:

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) leads New Zealand’s food safety system and set and monitor food standards.  MPI runs a national screening programme in which Manuka Health partakes, additional to our own batch monitoring programme.  Section 8.0 of the MPI Consolidated List of Tests for Animal Products details the Chemical Residue Testing programme covering honey (and other animal products such as mammals, fish, and dairy). MPI have completed tests and samples for the 2015/16 year and while not published yet, these have shown no signs of neonics in New Zealand honey. 
See more here:

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) ‘protects bees and other pollinators, such as moths, butterflies, hoverflies and birds, by setting the rules around when, how and where insecticides should be used’.  ‘In New Zealand strict regulations have been in place for many years around the use of a class of insecticides that contain neonicotinoids.  As New Zealand’s environmental regulator, it is the Environmental Protection Authority’s job to manage those risks.  We do that by setting rules around neonicotinoid use that include special measures solely to protect bees’.  These rules include:

  • No spraying near hives;
  • No spraying on crops likely to be visited by bees, or when bees are foraging;
  • No spraying when flowering crops or weeds are present in the treated area;
  • Avoid spraying budding or flowering plants. (This restriction means users cannot use neonicotinoids on plants that are in flower, or even those that are going to flower soon);
  • Most importantly, they must not be used on flowering crops.

(see more here: )


What are the trade names of the main neonics available in New Zealand and on what crops are they used?

Foliar use:

Actara (active ingredient: thiamethoxam) for kiwifruit, pipfruit and in-furrow application on potatoes.
Calypso (active ingredient: thiacloprid) for avocados, kiwifruit, pipfruit and stonefruit.
Confidor (active ingredient: imidacloprid) for application on onions and as transplant tray treatment of vegetable brassicas and lettuce.

Seed treatment application:

Cruiser (active ingredient: thiamethoxam) for maize/sweetcorn and forage brassicas.
Gaucho (active ingredient: imidacloprid) for cereals, forage brassicas, grass seed, maize/sweetcorn, potatoes and winter squash/pumpkins.

Poncho (active ingredient: clothianidin) for cereals, maize/sweetcorn, forage brassicas and grass seed. 

Are we concerned by the findings of the latest research?

There are a lot of differences to the way in which Neonics are used in New Zealand, and so we cannot simply apply the findings of this research to New Zealand’s situation. These differences include:

  • The crops grown,
  • The way we grow our crops; and
  • Our regulatory framework;

A lot of the concerns raised about Neonics and bee health relate to crops that are not grown in New Zealand, for example, Almonds;

New Zealand’s land is typically planted in a much more diverse means than in Europe, where planting tends to be in larger and more homogenous blocks;

Many of our native honeys are wild gathered crops such as manuka and that’s an important difference between New Zealand and many more densely populated countries. Our honey is harvested by and large from hill country and bush.
New Zealand’s regulatory framework includes a strict approval regime run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as chemical monitoring and testing run by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). In addition to this, all people handling Neonics require training – this is not the case in Europe.


What’s the impact of Neonics in NZ honey

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has a number of residue monitoring programmes associated with the Animal Products Act (APA), the Food Act and the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines (ACVM) Act;

The residue monitoring programmes cover the full range of primary products (meat, seafood, honey, milk and dairy products), and fresh produce intended for export and domestic consumption, as well as general food, as consumed by the average New Zealand person;

These programmes are based on ensuring that we have the confidence and requisite assurance that food is safe and good agricultural practice (GAP) is being followed;


Apiculture New Zealand

Environmental Protection Agency

Ministry for Primary Industries

Proud supporters of Apiculture New Zealand 2017

Proud supporters of Apiculture New Zealand 2017

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Manuka Health welcomes MPI efforts to authenticate New Zealand Manuka honey

Manuka Health welcomes MPI efforts to authenticate New Zealand Manuka honey

Learn More