Move to close the loophole of the use of banned pesticides

Tuesday 5th March 2024

During a debate in Parliament this afternoon on the environmental impact of neonicotinoids and other pesticides, the Labour Party announced a policy to end the use of emergency derogations for banned neonicotinoids, should they form the next Government.

The wide-ranging debate focused on the impact pesticides had on the environment, leading to the loss of invertebrate life including bees, wild pollinators, and aquatic life. Despite being banned in 2018 by the European Union, the use of neonicotinoids has continued in the English countryside, in the form of coatings on sugar beet seeds. This spring the Government has authorised the use of thiamethoxam for the fourth year in a row, ignoring the advice of its independent advisors.

Thiamethoxam is highly toxic to bees and aquatic life, it is a banned pesticide that breaks down into another highly toxic banned pesticide. Recent evidence from Ireland shows that several years after thiamethoxam was banned it was still occurring at harmful levels in wildflower pollen and nectar collected by bumblebees.

Craig Macadam, Buglife Conservation Director, said: “The continued presence of ecologically damaging toxins in our environment seriously hampers efforts to halt biodiversity loss and restore nature. The next Government must uphold the neonicotinoid ban and commit to reducing pesticide use. Today’s promise from Labour to prevent the use of emergency derogations for neonicotinoids is a positive step for the environment and will safeguard bees, pollinators and aquatic life, we encourage other parties to bring forward similar policies to reduce reliance on chemicals in food production.

Not just applied to our fields

Buglife remains concerned about the use of toxins in all sectors of life, with neonicotinoids applied as an active ingredient in flea treatments for cats and dogs. This issue was raised by Luke Pollard MP, in response the Minister said the Government could review the use of neonicotinoids within the upcoming Veterinary Medicines Regulation. Buglife will continue to call for the banning of flea treatments that include banned pesticides and hope that the Government will address the points raised today and provide parliamentary time to debate the best approach.

The use of pesticides internationally was also raised and should be included as part of the conversation to ensure that we do not Offshore our environmental damage. Buglife has a manifesto ask to include the protection of global biodiversity in every trade negotiation to ensure they do not result in the exportation of environmental harm.

Approval process

There are numerous issues surrounding the pesticide testing procedure, including the limited scope of testing – for instance, no testing is done on the impacts of new pesticides on solitary bees, bumblebees, or even the long-term health of honeybees. Further issues with current legislation include highly toxic “secret” ingredients in pesticides (co-formulants) that are not publicly declared as being ‘active substances’ so never go through the approval process. No account is being taken of the ‘cocktail’ effect where pesticides can have more dramatic effects when working in combination with each other.

Parliament must legislate for new pre-approval tests and processes that will protect bees, pollinators, and other beneficial invertebrates from all the ingredients in proposed pesticides while enabling public participation in environmental decision-making.

What’s next?

The minister promised the long-awaited National Action Plan on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides will be published “shortly”. This plan will, we have been told, set out how the Government will reduce the reliance and use of pesticides, however, the plan has been repeatedly delayed and it is now 6 years late. It is vital that this plan is published without further delay and include a ban on the sale of pesticides to unqualified users and new pre-‘approval’ tests and processes that will protect bees, pollinators, and other beneficial invertebrates from all the ingredients in proposed pesticides while enabling public participation in environmental decision-making.

We encourage all other political parties to adopt measures like Labour’s announcement today to give us the best opportunity to restore and ensure sustainable invertebrate populations. If the UK is going to meet its targets to halt nature decline and restore biodiversity it must stop the use of the most damaging chemicals in the environment.

Buglife thanks all the MPs who spoke in support of the environment in today’s debate and looks forward to stronger policies on the use of pesticides coming forward imminently.