Defra: No evidence yet that neonicotinoids harm bees
DEFRA has insisted there is no evidence, at this stage, that neonicotinoids are linked to a decline in bee populations.
But Defra Secretary Owen Paterson has asked for research by the Food and Environment Research Agency on the impact of the chemicals in the field to be speeded up to fill current gaps in knowledge.
A Defra spokesman said: “Independent experts have advised us that while there is a lot of research into their effect in laboratories, the current evidence on the impact of pesticides on bees in the field does not suggest that harmful effects will occur. That is why Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has asked for the results of field research by Fera to be sped up to give us this missing evidence.”
Following the publication of a major report detailing the huge economic and social implications of banning the seed treatment she said Defra was seeking a better understanding of the ‘wider environmental, economic and human health consequences of possible restrictions’, so any action it takes limits any negative knock-on effects.
The UK farming and agricultural supply industries have welcomed the report by the Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture, which estimated that banning neonicotinoids could cut yields of some crops by up to 20 per cent and could cost the UK economy £630 million a year.
NFU lead on bee health Dr Chris Hartfield said the work was ‘important’, particularly in light of the expected publication later this week of the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) review of neonicotinoid seed treatments, including their impact on bee populations.
“Any decision to change the way pesticides are used to control crop pests will have an impact on both the protection of insect pollinators and the protection of crops.
“It is essential that we fully understand all these impacts before taking any action. Otherwise there is a significant risk we could make changes that do nothing to improve bee health, or even worsen the bee health situation, while also compromising the effectiveness of what this socio-economic report clearly shows is very important way of protecting our crops from pests.”
Paul Rooke of the Agricultural Industries Confederation, said: “At a time of increasing world commodity market volatility, any additional upward price pressures will impact on overall food inflation whilst at the same time negatively impacting on the UK farmers’ ability to produce crops to the highest economic and environmental standards.”
Chris Baldwin, managing director of United Oilseeds, said a ban would result in lower yields and revenue losses for the oilseed rape sector meaning UK crushers and processors, who currently source from UK providers exclusively, may be forced to import crops from abroad.
“Using neonicotinoids as a seed coating is the most effective way to apply insecticide to crops and target specific threats. The alternative means having to spray post-emergent crops with insecticide in the field. As well as being less effective, this method is less targeted and means higher input costs for farmers,” he said.
Crop Protection Association director of policy Anne Buckenham said: “This report serves as an important reminder that any knee-jerk action to ban certain insecticidal treatments would have disastrous consequences for crop production in the UK and across Europe, with serious implications for food prices and availability at a time of mounting concern over global food security and market volatility.”
While the crop protection industry ‘recognises the critical importance of bees as a pollinator’, she said a ban on the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments would be ‘unlikely to improve bee health’.
Extensive scientific and field-based evidence points to the Varroa mite and parasitic diseases, combined with the problems associated with habitat loss, colony stress and climate change, as the key factors implicated in declining bee populations, she added.
But Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said the report indicated that banning the chemicals was a price worth paying in the UK.
He compared the estimated £630m additional costs to farmers of removing the chemicals to the estimated £1.8bn cost to farmers of replacing natural pollination of UK crops through bees and other insects with the alternative of hand pollination.
He pointed out that the report was funded by agri-chemical companies Bayer Crop Sciences and Syngenta and was therefore ‘unlikely to conclude that neonicotinoids should be banned’.
The Soil Association’s Keep Britain Buzzing campaign is calling for neonicotinoids to be banned in the UK.