The Bee Coalition has reacted with dismay to news that the National Farmers Union is attempting to sidestep an EU ban on neonicotinoids, pesticides known to be harmful to bees.
The NFU has applied for an emergency licence to apply neonicotinoid seed treatments to oilseed rape crops sown this autumn. The chemicals are currently under an EU-wide ban because of evidence that they pose a risk to bees and other pollinators. Research by independent scientists has continued to strengthen this evidence and raised further concerns that neonicotinoids could potentially harm other wildlife as well.
Peter Lundgren is a Lincolnshire farmer who grows oilseed rape and other combinable crops. He stopped using neonicotinoids in 2013. Peter says “So far I am managing well without neonicotinoids and I am constantly looking to improve my system further. Any pesticide can have unwanted impacts, but with sprays these can be minimised by following best practice, like only spraying if pest thresholds are exceeded. For me this is one of the advantages of moving away from seed treatments, where you have to make a decision even before the growing season starts. And the cost to my business of not using neonicotinoid seed treatment is minimal - just £2.20 per hectare. As far as I’m concerned this cost is outweighed by the importance of conserving our pollinator populations.”
Nick Mole, Pesticide Action Network UK, said “In autumn 2014, for the first time in over ten years, none of the oilseed rape sown in the UK was treated with neonicotinoids. About 5% of the area sown was lost to pests, and current predictions are for a good oilseed rape harvest later this summer. Some farmers were hit harder, and crop losses are obviously a blow for any farmer – but the levels of damage seen do not constitute an emergency by any stretch of the imagination.”
Louise Payton of the Soil Association added “The ban on neonicotinoids is blamed for posing localised challenges to the oilseed rape sector, but the answer isn’t to bring back a pesticide that’s known to be harmful to wildlife, or to increase the use of other pesticides that bring their own problems. What farmers need is government, researchers and farming organisations to work together to promote more sustainable, wildlife-friendly ways of managing pests.”
Dave Timms, Friends of the Earth said “In a month when the Government’s Chief Scientist has highlighted the growing evidence that neonicotinoids are posing a threat to our wildlife, it is particularly worrying that the NFU continues to take this blinkered approach.” Ellie Crane at the RSPB agrees: “Declining pollinator populations, degraded soils, disappearing farmland birds: these are challenges the sector urgently needs to face up to. Given the evidence that the use of neonicotinoids could be contributing to these environmental losses, the only responsible approach is to stop using them while the necessary research is carried out.”
Matt Shardlow, Buglife, said “The evidence is resounding: neonicotinoids destroy populations of wild bees. To risk further damage to our pollinator life support system would be highly irresponsible. This ban-busting application must be firmly rejected.”
Last year, a similar application by Syngenta for an exemption to the ban was withdrawn after a petition signed by over 200,000 people was handed in at Downing Street.