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.

Readers' comments (10)

  • I love it when Anne Buckenham says:
    "“This report serves as an important reminder that any knee-jerk action to ban certain insecticidal treatments would have disastrous consequences "

    Knee jerk reaction???

    When Basyer's 'Gaucho' was introduced as a seed dressing for Sunflowers in France in 1994 - beekeepers lost a MILLION hives in the next two years. They knew almost immedaitely that the cause was Bayer's 'Gaucho' (Imidacloprid) because - when they put the hives in the sunflowers, the hives died. If they put the hives in chestnut forests - the flourished. if the sunflowers bloomed early - the bees died early - if they bloomed later - the bees died later. The French govt convened the highest level of scientific Inquiry which the French State mandates; it considered 243 peer reviewed technical papers - and the conclusion of the Minister of Agriculture was to BAN neonicotinoids on sunflowers, oilseed rape and other bee crops in AD2000. The ban has nver been rescinded. And guess what? French farmers have not collapsed, or gone bankrupt - they found other ways to minimise insect damage, liek crop rotation, or pesticides applied AFTER a crop was attacked.

    The lies from DEFRA, the NFU and the bee establishment (in the pay of Bayer and Syngenta) come thicker and faster. But truth will out. The French have banned neonics; the Italians, the Germans, the Swiss and the Slovenians have done so.
    But apparently in Britain, we don't believe in the validity of international peer-reviwed science - at least, not when it comes up with an answer that the pesticide industry doesn't like.

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  • Who advises DEFRA on this? It's actually FERA and CRD, isn't it, who seem rather prone to being economical with the truth – E.g the time they misrepresented the Girolami study - and by that, I mean completely twisted it, and used a seriously flawed Swiss government study to cast doubt on it (where, in a short experiment, a 2 ha field surrounded by wildflowers and orchard was used in the test, and only 36% of this was sown with the test product - clothianidin treated corn, and hive products were assessed to see if they contained chemicals). This unrealistic field study which appears to conform to EPPO170 tests for pesticides, escaped criticism by FERA.

    FERA can turn a blind eye to Bayer literature pointing out effects on other social colony insects (disorientation and more - see Premise 200SC leaflet) which have been observed to occur in bees.

    FERA also turn a blind eye to patents which are very revealing – check Google Patents yourself, and look at the lists of species like lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), and vespa (wasps, from which bees are descended) where claims are made about the efficacy of killing invertbrates. See if you can convince yourselves that these chemicals conveniently only kill ‘pest butterflies & wasps’ whilst conveniently leaving ‘nasty butterflies, wasps and bees’ alone.

    Members of FERA have influenced regulatory guidelines for tests, and despite this, they are not appropriate for purpose.
    I wouldn’t trust the people who work at FERA with a packet of crisps, let alone the well being of the environment.

    Links to the points I have made here:

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  • I forget to mention that neonics are of course persistent in soil - meaning that your soil can surely remain treated beyond the applicaiton time. This feature of 'persistence' is acknowledged in various government fact sheets, and even in promotional literature - such as the Premise leaflet that claims an application of imidacloprid keeps a house protected from termites for some years.

    So it looks like farmers might be able to keep their crops protected from 'pests' even when they have stopped using neonics.

    Of course, Bonmatin found this in a field study for the French Govt - in which sunlfowers still took up the poison after applicaiton had ceased even 2 yrs later Unfortunately, the posion was then available to bees in nectar and pollen at toxic levels.

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  • Anybody notice that the so-called independent Humboldt Forum listed Bayer as one of its 5 main supporters - Bayer being the key manufacturer of neonicotinoids? And that its executive committee of 3 includes BASF, another pesticide manufacturer?

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  • The same arguments were used to keep DDT in production. Who would bring back DDT today??

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  • I think this industry report will look rather foolish and self serving in a few days' time.

    There IS a future for farmers without having to rely so heavily on the chemical products pushed by the pesticides industry - products they say are safe but which we now know are not subject to robust testing because they are not properly tested on wild bees.

    And unless there have been comparable tests of crops grown without treatment claims that there is only one way to produce food - which is effectively what this report is saying - also don't stack up scientifically.

    This report would have us believe that farmers have no option than to stay on the chemical treadmill.

    Helping farmers to try out other ways of farming - not necessarily doing away with all chemicals - but at least letting farmers demonstrate their oft-quoted stewardship skills other than those that come from a can or other neonicotinoid treatments will never be given a chance if reports like this a allowed to dictate decisions.

    Paul de Zylva, The Bee Cause, Friends of the Earth

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  • I think many bee keepers are fed up with farmers who really couldn't care less about the bee colonies they kill by their use of pesticides. In the UK any farmer who is about to use a pesticide that is harmful to bees is required by the pesticide regulations to inform their local spray liaison officer 48 hours in advance so that local beekeepers can arrange to keep their bees in. I am the spray liaison officer for West Cornwall and even though the NFU has reminded their members in the South West to do this no farmer has advised me of their intention to spray in the last 3 years. Farmers don't care about bees or beekeepers. Will I be sorry for them if they are stopped from using neo-nicotinoids?
    We have been warning about the dangers of neo-nicotinoids for over 10 years and been ignored. Now the evidence is overwhelming. Time's up for neo-nicotinoids, start planning for something less environmentally damaging.

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  • What is the rapeseed oil actually being used for?

    This will determine whether it has any negative effects on food security.

    Of the EU's production of 16 million tonnes of rapeseed oil, about 4 million tonnes goes into producing biodiesel.

    Therefore the demand for biofuels, created by the EU's nonsensical support for biofuel from food crops, is a major driver of the catastrophe for bees. These factors are directly linked.

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  • All the evidence is there, the deliberately flawed field studies from Bayer and Syngenta proves it, game over.

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  • Defra just like the epa are corrupt and totally useless.

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