Industry reacts to neonicotinoid seed treatment ban

THE industry has been reacting to today’s (Monday) EU decision to ban the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments in an attempt to halt the decline in bee numbers.

Environmentalists who have been pushing for a ban said it was good news for bees, but the NFU argued there was not enough scientific evidence to show the chemicals were to blame.

NFU lead on bee health Dr Chris Hartfield said: “The Commission’s decision to ban three widely used neonicotinoids is likely to have catastrophic impacts for food production and unintended consequences for the environment, without delivering any measurable benefits for bee health.”

The Soil Association’s head of policy, Emma Hockridge, said the decision was a boost for organic farming and showed ‘systemic insecticides such as neonicotinoids are not needed to produce food’.

She said: “This is a victory not only for the bees and other pollinators, but for independent science against the political, pro-pesticide position adopted by UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and the pesticide industry. 

The European Commission and many European governments have reacted responsibly to the British and European scientific evidence showing clearly that a suspension is justified.”

Friends of the Earth’s head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton said it was a ‘victory for common sense’.

However, the environmental charity said pesticides were not the only threat bees face and renewed its call for the UK Government to urgently introduce a Bee Action Plan.

“The UK Government’s refusal to back restrictions on these chemicals, despite growing scientific concern about their impact, is yet another blow to its environmental credibility,” said Mr Pendleton.

“Ministers must now help farmers to grow and protect crops, but without relying so heavily on chemicals – especially those linked to bee decline.”

Pesticide manufacturers Bayer and Syngenta said there was not enough evidence to link the seed treatments to a decrease in numbers.

Syngenta’s chief operating officer John Atkin said: “The European Commission has again failed to win the necessary support for its proposed ban on this vital technology. The ban has been wrongly presented as a silver bullet for solving the bee health problem. The proposal is based on poor science and ignores a wealth of evidence from the field that these pesticides do not damage the health of bees.”

Bayer said the ban would have a negative impact on UK agriculture and farmers could expect to see reduced yields as a result.

The Commission said the ban – which will remain in place for two years – will be reviewed to take into account any new scientific and technical developments which have occurred in that period.

Science director of the International Bee Research Association, Norman Carreck, said it would be difficult to gather any definitive evidence of the effects in the field during the next two years.

“It is hard to see how this can be done if fields will no longer use treated seeds,” he said.

“I am also concerned about what Environmental Impact Assessment has been carried out to evaluate the effects on bees of the use of alternative pest control measures that will follow this moratorium. 

“Neonicotinoids will inevitably be replaced by older compounds. Just as we lack knowledge of the subtle sub-lethal effects of neonicotinoids in the field, we know little about these other compounds either, because historically the registration process has not focussed on these aspects.”

Head of biological chemistry and crop protection at Rothamsted Research, Prof Lin Field, added: it was ‘concerning’ the decision has been made through political lobbying, rather than a comprehensive and sound scientific risk-benefit assessment. 

Prof Field said: “There are many other factors known to affect bee colonies - the varroa mite, the bee viruses spread by the mites, pesticides that beekeepers use to kill the mites, climate effects and flower and nectar availability - all of which need to be taken into consideration. 

“Thinking we can solve the bee problem by a ban on neonicotinoids may mean we overlook these other important factors.”

Georgina Downs from the UK Pesticides Campaign said the ban did not go far enough.

She added: “It is clear that the very serious and inherent problems that result from using pesticides will definitely not be solved by merely tinkering with the existing system. There needs to be a complete policy shift away from the dependence on pesticides altogether by utilizing sustainable non-chemical farming methods.”

Readers' comments (2)

  • Interesting to see Environment Information Sheets (EIS) being mentioned. They were in Crop Protection Management Plans (CPMP's) which used to be in the ELS . Now i gather only 5% of farmers do a CPMP. Ive yet to meet a farmer or agronomist who has read the EIS sheet for Redigo Deter which u can find : http://www.bayercropscience.co.uk/assets/Document-Store/EIS/Redigo-Deter-Version-3-Mar-11-Guideline-version-4.pdf

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  • Again it is the farmer who will have to cope with the consequences while for politicians, charities, chemical companies, agronomists, civil servants, the media and scientists it's all "business as usual".

    Tax paying farmers and bee keepers should be in direct control of policy - not a bunch of non tax paying charities and politicians.

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