MPs call for pesticide ban to protect bees

8th April 2013


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  • Natural resources ,
  • Biodiversity ,
  • Ecosystems ,
  • Agriculture ,
  • Chemicals

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IEMA

Defra's refusal to back an EU ban on insecticides linked to declining bee numbers has been slammed by the environmental audit committee

In a report examining Defra’s approach to protecting the UK’s pollinating insects, the environmental audit committee (EAC) concludes that the environment department has allowed economic considerations to influence its decision not to support the European Commission’s proposed ban on the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides – imidacloprid, clothianidin and TMX.

Following the recommendations of the European Food Safety Authority, and in light of a growing number of studies linking neonicotinoids to falling numbers of pollinators, the commission proposed an EU-wide moratorium on the use of the chemicals on crops that are attractive to bees.

France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia have already introduced similar bans and a number of UK retailers, including B&Q, Homebase and Wickes, have stopped stocking products containing the pesticides.

Defra, however, will not back a ban unless it is “proportionate”, reveals the EAC’s report. The committee warns that the department’s interpretation of the precautionary principle has seen economic factors – such as the impact of a ban on the agriculture sector – become “entangled with environmental decision making”.

“This not only contradicts Defra’s stated commitment to the precautionary principle, but risks overlooking the significant economic value of insect pollinators,” it states.

“Defra must apply the precautionary principle rather than maintaining the status quo while waiting for further evidence.”

Joan Walley, chair of the EAC, argued: “Defra seems to be taking an extraordinarily complacent approach to protecting bees given the vital free service that pollinators provide to our economy.

“Ministers have refused to back EU efforts to protect pollinators and can’t even come up with a convincing plan to encourage bee-friendly farming in the UK.”

Alongside introducing a ban on the insecticides in line with the commission’s proposals, the committee recommends that Defra reviews its interpretation of the precautionary principle and prioritises its work on valuing ecosystems services.

“The available evidence suggests that wild insect pollinators are declining in abundance. One reason why pollinators might lack sufficient protection against threats is a lack of understanding of their true worth,” commented Walley.

“More research is needed to monitor pollinator populations and establish the impact that particular pesticides are having, but Defra must not use this as an excuse to avoid urgent precautionary action.”

However, responding to the EAC’s report a Defra spokesperson argued that more evidence was needed before introducing a ban.

“Decisions on neonicotinoids must be based on sound scientific evidence. That’s why we want the commission to agree to our suggestion for a major new field study to get the best, most up-to-date evidence.

“That will allow informed decision-making, rather than rushing into a knee-jerk ban based on inconclusive studies.”

The EAC also called on pesticide manufacturers to be more transparent with the results of their studies into the impacts of neonicotinoids.

“Pesticide companies often try to pick holes in studies linking their products to bee decline, but when pushed to publish their own research and safety studies they hide behind claims of commercial sensitivity,” commented Walley.

"The industry must open itself to greater academic scrutiny if it wants to justify its continued opposition to the precautionary protection of pollinators.”

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