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Special Report: This year, the European Union banned the world’s most commonly used insecticides.

The insecticides weren’t a threat to people, at least not directly.

Experts say the three neonicotinoids pose a threat to many species of bees, which according to the CSIRO, are essential for the pollination of about one-third of the food we eat.

The ban will come into force at the end of 2018 and will mean the neonicotinoids can only be used inside greenhouses.

While it’s a win for the bees, it’s a real problem for agriculturalists, because despite serious investment, the insecticides industry has come up with few new products to deal with insect pests.

And the pressure is on to find new insecticides that get rid of the bad bugs without harming the good.

By November last year the shift had begun, however, as global studies emerged pitching different bee-friendly compounds and with the arrival of Australia’s Bio-Gene Technology (ASX:BGT) which listed on the ASX with a promise that its eucalyptus-based insecticides were safer to bees.

Bio-Gene’s studies show that its synthetic natural insecticide Flavocide has a low toxicity to bees, when compared to commonly used insecticides.

“Insecticides, intended to control a wide spectrum of pests, have the potential to impact non-target organisms such as bees, and other pollinators, when applied to crops,” the company says.

“Bee acute toxicity studies involving oral ingestion and topical contact were conducted on Flavocide by an internationally accredited laboratory. The findings confirmed that Flavocide had a toxicity rating well below the level that would require a precautionary statement on product labels.”

The problem with bans

The issue Bio-Gene is working to address is the documented toxicity of insecticides such as neonicotinoids on pollinators.

Europe’s ban on neonicotinoids stems from a report released in February which found any outdoor use of these insecticides posed a high risk to honey bees and wild bees and could have ongoing impacts for the environment.

These compounds can remain in the ground and waterways and even appear in other crops and flowers.

In Australia, neonicotinoids have been used since 1994 in a wide variety of crops including cotton, canola, cereals, sunflower, potato, many vegetable crops and fruits, says government researcher CSIRO.

It also says that in Australia’s dry soils, the compounds don’t break down as fast as in wetter climates.

The solution: new insecticides

Bio-Gene CEO Richard Jagger says their product is 5,000 times less toxic to bees.

“That gives us a really significant safety margin on application rates because we can show our technology is much safer to those beneficial insects,” he told Stockhead.

The company has spent the last year conducting trials on its products Qcide, made from an oil extracted from a eucalyptus species, and Flavocide which is a lab synthesis of a natural compound of the same chemical class.

It is now in talks with potential customers.

Mr Jagger says those customers are looking for a new active compound which works against destructive pests and does not harm bee populations — thereby reducing the risk of developing a product that might be banned for use in bee-sensitive situations.

“Testing Flavocide for toxicity to bees has been a priority for Bio-Gene so we can demonstrate safety when it’s used in agricultural crops as well as for public health purposes,” he said.

“We are encouraged by these significant results that classify Flavocide as relatively non-toxic to bees. Demonstrating safety on these important insects is a significant boost to our value proposition as we define the commercial applications for our technology.”

 

Bio-Gene Technology is a Stockhead advertiser.
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