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Government authorised neonicotinoid pesticide use despite knowing they damage honeybee colonies

A Government study by their agency Fera has been published today.  The study contains three key results, it shows:-

  • A clear relationship across regions between imidacloprid use (the commonest neonicotinoid used during the period of the study) and overwintering honeybee colony losses.
  • Neonicotinoid seed treatments (mainly imidacloprid) on Oilseed rape did not produce a consistent yield benefit - positive in three years, negative in one and no overall effect.
  • Neonicotinoid use reduced insecticide spray use in the autumn only if the initial use of the neonicotinoid was ignored, but appeared to increase insecticide sprays the following spring – net effect circa 0.75 more insecticide uses per hectare.

Government has been aware of this statistical link between imidacloprid use and honeybee colony loss since early 2013 – the minutes of their own Advisory Committee on Pesticides of 29th January 2013 contain extensive discussion about a “prepublication” analysis that revealed that once regional differences had been accounted for 7-8% of honeybee colony loss was associated with imidacloprid use “there was a clear signal from imidacloprid use despite this ‘noise’, from other factors”.

Buglife has been chasing Government to publish this ever since, but their Chief Scientist indicated that he had assessed the data and did not believe it to be sufficient to carry out a valid study – it is embarrassing that the analysis has now been published in one of the world’s leading scientific journals.

This July this year the Government authorised a derogation to allow farmers to use two types of banned neonicotinoids – clothianidin and thiamethioxam – on Oilseed rape, despite knowing about the link in their own data between the use of the closely related imidacloprid and loss of bee colonies.  The study period was 2002 to 2010, prior to the widespread use of clothianidin and thiamethioxam.  The Government abolished the Advisory Committee on Pesticides in 2014 and there are fears that the regional data that enabled this sophisticated analysis is no longer being collated.

Matt Shardlow, Buglife CEO said “This is a profound disclosure by the UK Government, since 2013 they have known that neonicotinoid pesticides are linked to honeybee colony losses, but have repeatedly argued in favour of the continued use of these bee killing toxins, even in the last month breaking an EU ban to allow farmers to use them.  Using neonicotinoid seed dressings is prophylactic and results in a net increase in area of land treated with insecticides, but again we find that neonicotinoids do not provide any consistent benefit to crop yields or the economy, they do however damage bees, pollinators and freshwater life: a complete ban is long overdue.”

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