UK attempted neonic ban bust a microcosm of pesticide policy?

Friday 4th July 2014

Yesterday’s announcement that Syngenta was withdrawing its application to the Government to allow the sale of enough neonicotinoid treated seed to plant 186,000 Ha of England with toxic crops was a victory for pollinators and all working on their behalf.

The experience was in many regards a microcosm of how the issue of pesticide regulation plays out:-

  • • We had regulatory secrecy, the Syngenta application for the derogation was submitted at least as early as May, but only became public knowledge on the 24th June.   Although interestingly Bayer knew about it long before then.  The justifications supplied by Syngenta to Defra remain secret.

  • • We had misleading statements from the NFU “we have just found that 70% of the Swedish Spring Oil Seed Rape crop was destroyed this year by flea beetles” a claim that Buglife showed to be completely without foundation.

  • • We had NGOs quickly responding and working together to pull together a campaign to stop the derogation.

  • • We had the public coming forward in force to defend bees and pollinators 219,000 signing the 38 Degrees petition, 35,000 signing the Avaaz petition and hundreds of people joining Friends of the Earth and Buglife to write to the Minister.

However, there were some differences this time.

Most significantly the Labour Party came out strongly in support of the ban and wrote to the Secretary of State stating that a decision to approve Syngenta’s application would be ‘anti-scientific’. With the Green Party, that has been active on the issue for a while, there are now two mainstream UK political parties that support the ban.

Secondly, the move came against an international change in mood music with the recent order by Barak Obama to take action to save pollinators, including a full review of neonicotinoid pesticides, meaning that the stakes for the UK Prime Minister have been raised.

Thirdly, the announcement on the 24th June by the IUCN that their mammoth review of the scientific evidence had concluded that “systemic pesticides… are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees” has put the pesticide companies and neonic-supporting politicians firmly on the back foot.

There is therefore hope that this is not simply a battle won, but a turning point in how neonicotinoids are regulated.  But we will need to be wary, the pesticide companies are wily and incredibly well resourced.  In America alone the pesticide companies are spending over £450,000 a month on lobbying while the key NGOs are spending just £4,500.