Today Michael Gove has announced the most radical, and much to be welcomed, shift in the UK’s position on neonicotinoids since Buglife first wrote to Defra ministers in 2008 raising concerns about risks to wild bees and aquatic life.
Evidence this year from Canada put harmful impacts, from the persistent contamination of the countryside with dust and washed off neonicotinoids, beyond all reasonable doubt. However, there was enough evidence a year ago for the European Food Standards Authority to determine that they presented a high risk to wild bees, and enough evidence for Buglife to call for a precautionary ban in its report reviewing scientific evidence in 2009.
Under Hilary Benn the Defra response to concerns about the impacts of neonicotinoids on wildlife in 2009 was deflection, which evolved in 2012 under Owen Paterson into determined rejection, until the EC intervened to impose a partial ban in 2013. Since 2013 the UK Government’s position has been unenthusiastic compliance, with two derogations being granted in 2014 and 2015 allowing farmers to use neonicotinoid seed treatments.
Today’s policy change follows new advice from the Expert Committee on Pesticides and puts the UK firmly behind moves to extend the existing partial ban in both time and scope. The EC plans to bring an overdue proposal to include all outdoor crops in the ban to a Council meeting in December.
“The evidence that neonics applied to non-flowering crops harm pollinators has been clear for over a year, but the EU has been stuck, unable to get sufficient votes from Member States to push through the full ban on outdoor use that the scientists at the European Food Safety Authority and regulators in the Commission know is required. In taking this ‘unfrozen moment’ in British politics to put bees and science at the centre of our priorities for sustainable agriculture Michael Gove may also unfreeze the EU and secure an EU wide ban that will benefit insects across the continent.” said Buglife CEO Matt Shardlow.
Once outside the EU the UK would have to take greater responsibility for the regulation of pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals. This would mean developing expertise, regulatory capacity and a culture of modern and responsible conduct.
Environmentalists are currently very anxious that leaving the EU could mean losing our environmental principles. We have previously relied on EU policy making being based on the precautionary principle, but this principle is not currently being carried into UK law.
An amendment tabled to the Withdrawal Bill would save the environmental principles and make sure they continued to apply as before, in both policy and law. Environmentalists will be hoping that Michael Gove will understand that applying the precautionary principle could have saved wild bee populations from years of severe and on-going damage.
“Buglife warmly welcomes the UK’s change of position. Brexit will give the UK more control over the health of our ecosystems, it is essential in doing so that we apply the highest standards of care and the full range of environmental principles. Michael Gove’s support for a more comprehensive ban on neonicotinoids to protect our disappearing bees and pollinators is just the sort of decisive and science based action that the public needs to see to restore confidence in the UK’s ability to be a responsible custodian of our precious natural environment.” – Buglife CEO Matt Shardlow.
Today’s Guardian article
Buglife 2009 study calls for precautionary ban as safety of neonicotinoids cannot be assured
2016 UK study shows more than 40% of UK wild bee species declined as a direct result of neonicotinoids
EFSA 2016 Review confirms that dust and contamination of wild flowers presents high risk to bees
2017 Canadian study shows neonic dust and contamination of wild flowers harms bees
Amendment NC28 that is accepted would ensure that public authorities carrying out their duties arising by virtue of the Withdrawal Act would have regard to environmental principles currently enshrined in EU law.