Buglife questions Defra Minister’s TV statements about Neonicotinoids and bees

Wednesday 21st August 2013

19th July 2013

On Thursday 18th July ITV’s Tonight programme investigated the current bee and wild pollinator crisis which threatens food security. Defra Minister David Heath appeared on the programme and made a number of statements about neonicotinoid pesticides that are highly questionable.

Discounting the conclusions of over a hundred studies by independent scientists which show that neonicotinoids are an environmental risk David Heath stated “There’s abundant evidence that this is a substance which is toxic in the laboratory…What we have not been able to demonstrate yet is there’s any linkage between that and what you see in field conditions where you have much lower dosages than were applied in the laboratory tests”.

This statement contradicts the opinion of the Government’s own scientific advisory group, the Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP). In the January 2013 meeting “Members commented that the laboratory and semi-laboratory studies reported in the literature represent sound science. The main questions raised were about whether the nature of the exposure was realistic, and information to date suggests the exposures were reasonable”.

David Heath also stated that “Wouldn’t you expect there to be some evidence after all of these trials, somebody to have gone on and said “What’s actually happening in the field?” but they haven’t”.

Again the ACP advice contradicts this statement. In January the committee discussed the Government’s flawed neonicotinoid study on bumblebees and noted that there were actually statistically significant links between levels of neonicotinoids and bumblebee health in the field. This link was ‘modified’ in the final report was published by removing data. The European Food Standards Authority expressed concerns about “inconsistencies and contradictory statements” and questioned how the report “elaborated and interpreted the study results to reach their conclusions”

David Heath blamed the flaws in the study on it being rushed through because of action taken by the European Commission “Because we were doing it against a deadline set, not by any scientific research, not by any idea of do we find out the actual facts about this, but by a politically imposed timetable, which I’m afraid I think was quite wrong”. However, in 2009 Buglife produced a scientific review that clearly identified a credible risk to wild pollinators from neonicotinoids and submitted the report to the Prime Minister’s Chief Environmental Advisor at 10 Downing Street. However successive administrations were complacent and failed to respond to the issues raised in Buglife’s report.

Finally David Heath stated that “The risk is by banning neonicotinoids you actually encourage farmers to use other, perhaps slightly outdated technologies in terms of insecticides, pesticides which could be far worse for the bees”. Buglife is not aware of the scientific basis for these claims and will be asking the Government to clarify which insecticides it is referring to and to set out the evidence that indicates that they are more damaging to the environment than neonicotinoids.

Matt Shardlow Buglife CEO said “There have been profound concerns about the impact of neonicotinoids on wild bees, moths, hoverflies and aquatic life since 2009. Successive governments did not take the science seriously and appeared complacent. Now that the high risk that has been scientifically proven and a partial EU wide ban put in place the unwillingness of the UK Government to take regulatory action or to investigate impacts on soil and river ecology appears to go considerably further than complacency”.

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