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Newcastle University Retracts Claim that Neonicotinoid Ban Cost UK Farmers £18.4 million

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A study produced in March 2017 by Rural Business Research and the Institute of Agri‐Food Research and Innovation at Newcastle University was widely reported in the media as showing that the neonicotinoid ban on flowering crops had cost UK farmers £18.4 million in increased pest control expenditure.

The claim was made in the press release and was not made in the text of the full report.

The claim was challenged by Buglife and Friends of the Earth and report author Paul Bilsborrow agreed that without a comparison with costs before the ban it was impossible to claim that the costs of Cabbage stem flea beetle control on Oilseed rape in 2016 represented an increase in costs.

This culminated yesterday in the retraction of the claim that “The full cost to farmers of the neonicotinoid ban in 2016 was £18.4 million” and its replacement with the statement that “The full cost to farmers of CSFB in 2016 was £18.4 million”.

Although farmers were losing neonic treated Oilseed rape crops before the ban, no records were kept, so it is impossible to assess any change.  However, it is possible to compare the costs of purchasing and applying Cabbage stem flea beetle related insecticides.  In 2012 farmers spent about £8.2 million and in 2016 they spent about £12.8 million.  However, any increase in insecticide costs is more than compensated for by the increase in yield.  From 2012 to 2014 UK Winter oilseed rape yielded on average 3.33 tonnes/Ha, but after the ban the yield increased and has averaged 3.50 t/Ha.  A 0.16t/Ha increase in yield on the UK Oilseed rape hectarage is worth £28 million, dwarfing any change in production costs. 

A recent scientific paper has linked declining Turnip oilseed rape yields in Finland with the decline in wild pollinators caused by neonicotinoids.  If bees and predatory beetles recover from neonicotinoid use, then yields may increase further.

It should be noted that there is no scientific paper establishing any link between increases or decreases in Cabbage stem flea beetles and the use, or the banning of, neonicotinoids.  The flea beetle population in Eastern England actually started increase in the year before the ban and has now declined.  In Germany insecticide use on Oilseed rape has reduced since the ban.

“The authors have been big enough to admit and correct the error in their press release, and we hope that journalists and editors will do their part to set the record straight; the future of bees and agriculture is too important to be guided by convenient untruths”.  Said Matt Shardlow, Buglife CEO.

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