On first anniversary of bee-harming pesticides restriction, more action is needed

Monday 1st December 2014

Monday 1st December is the first anniversary of the two-year EU-wide restrictions on certain neonicotinoid pesticides. While the restriction was an important first step, it is clear that further action is needed to protect UK pollinators by giving precedence to scientific facts. One year on, the Bee Coalition is calling for a blanket ban on all neonicotinoid pesticides.

Unfortunately, some groups continue to dismiss the science that shows the harmful effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on pollinators and attempt to undermine the restrictions. For example, just a day after the Global Task Force on Systemic Pesticides review concluded “clear evidence of harm sufficient to trigger regulatory response,” neonicotinoid manufacturer Syngenta applied for an ‘emergency’ exemption that would allow 186,000 hectares of neonicotinoid treated oil seed rape to be planted. Despite overwhelming evidence of risk and harm from use of neonicotinoids organisations such as the National Farmers Union (NFU), the Crop Protection Association (CPA) and the Government’s Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP) continue to argue that insufficient evidence of harm and potential reductions in yield mean the restrictions should be overturned.

In response, the Bee Coalition has released a fact sheet addressing 10 common myths about neonicotinoids and the pesticide industry.

One such myth is that there is no evidence to show that neonicotinoids are harmful to pollinators. However, although we acknowledge that pollinators face a number of stressors, evidence shows that neonicotinoids can have a huge impact on pollinator health. The Global Task Force on Systemic Pesticides reviewed 800 studies covering birds, animals, soil and water as well as bees. The review concluded that the group most affected by neonicotinoids were terrestrial invertebrates, such as earthworms, followed by insect pollinators, such as bees and butterflies. They recommend a complete global phase-out, or at least a significant reduction, of neonicotinoid use.

The fact sheet also addresses the myths about neonicotinoids perpetuated by the pesticide industry and certain big farming interests, such as:

• All the evidence on bees has been from lab studies, which do not reflect what happens in the real world

• Farmers need neonicotinoids

• The varroa mite is the primary cause of bee decline

• Neonicotinoid seed treatments are better for wildlife because they are more targeted than pesticide sprays

• The plant protection industry is being held to a ‘higher standard of proof’ than the rest of modern life

• The likely loss of ‘crop protection products’ resulting from EU regulations will mean 35,000-40,000 job losses

• The likely loss of ‘crop protection products’ due to EU regulations will result in lower yields, ranging from 4-50%, and revenue losses at £1.73bn.

• It is the EU’s moral duty to make full use of pesticides to maximise agricultural output, to help feed the 842 million people in the world who lack enough to eat.

By dispelling these common myths about neonicotinoids and presenting the scientific facts, we hope that the UK Government will strengthen and review its actions to protect pollinators from the threat of pesticides, giving priority to the precautionary principle. The Government’s National Pollinator Strategy, released on 4 November 2014, contains no planned action on reducing the use of neonicotinoids. Instead, the Government is relying on the field studies paid for by the pesticides industry. The NPS reflects that the Government still fails to accept European neonicotinoid risk assessments based on robust, peer-reviewed science and there is still little indication of how it will ensure sufficient change is achieved to reverse pollinator declines.

Vanessa Amaral-Rogers, Buglife’s Campaigns Officer, said:

 “Last year we managed a small victory for the pollinators of Europe but now we need to look to the other important animals. The focus has been on the honeybees and bumblebees but what about the water insects, or the birds. Neonicotinoids are just as harmful to these creatures and have managed to permeate into our whole ecosystem. It’s not just the bees which are suffering.” 

Paul de Zylva, Friends of the Earth’s Nature Campaigner, said:   

“The temporary ban is a short respite for bees and pollinators. There’s now overwhelming evidence of the risks these chemicals pose to bees and also to other wildlife and the quality of our water and soil. Contrast this with claims by the pesticides and big farming lobby that farmers can only produce crops if they use these bee-harming toxins. The Government and the EU must now act responsibly by using the rest of the ban period to help farmers to use better, safer ways to protect and produce crops.”

Peter Melchett, Soil Association’s Policy Director, said:

“Time and time again pesticides are approved to be safe, but are then found to be dangerous for our wildlife. Neonicotinoids have been no exception to this – yet the pesticide industry’s myths on these chemicals persist. It is high time that they were quashed. Now we see in the second year of the EU’s temporary ban, and with evidence continuing to mount, the Soil Association calls for the ban to be permanent and to be extended to all crops.”