MPs call for independent research on impact of pesticides

29th July 2014

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The government's proposed national pollinator strategy is too reliant on industry-funded pesticide research and is therefore susceptible to commercial, rather than scientific priorities, according to the House of Commons' environmental audit committee (EAC).

The draft national pollinator strategy, proposed by Defra, includes an industry-led research framework to establish a better understanding of the effects of pesticides on pollinators, which the government says is “patchy”, with limited data on long-term trends.

Although the EAC welcomes Defra’s commitment to a national framework to monitor the plight of pollinators, whose numbers are in serious decline, it says public confidence will be undermined without independent research controls and scientific peer review.

Commenting on Defra’s proposals, chair of the EAC, Joan Walley said; "When it comes to research on pesticides, Defra is content to let the manufacturers fund the work. If the research is to command public confidence, independent controls need to be maintained at every step. Unlike other research funded by pesticide companies, these studies also need to be peer-reviewed and published in full."

Pollinators – such as bees, hoverflies, butterflies, beetles, midges and moths – play an essential role in both food production and biodiversity protection. But enquiries carried out by the EAC suggest two thirds of pollinator species in the UK are in decline, with honeybees experiencing unusually high mortality rates, an impaired ability to pollinate crops and the loss of hives.

Three systemic neonicotinoid pesticides – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam – believed to be linked to the decline in pollinator numbers were banned last year by the European commission for two years, while further research is completed. The UK government, however, did not support the ban.

Walley said the national pollinator strategy should incorporate the ban. "Defra should use the final strategy to draw a line under the European neonicotinoid ban. It should make clear that it now accepts the ban and will not seek to overturn it when the European commission conducts a review next year," she said.

The draft national pollinator strategy, which includes further research into pollinators, was released for consultation in March 2014 and the final version is expected to be published in the autumn.


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