The Soil Association has criticised Hilary Benn’s decision not to ban pesticides believed to damage honey bees’ neurological and immune systems while millions are invested in trying to halt honey bee decline.
The association said that Benn, the UK’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), had in a letter rejected its calls to prohibit use of a group of pesticides (Neonicotinoids) which have already been withdrawn in France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia.
It comes as Defra this week announced a boost to funding to try and identify the main threats to bees and other insect pollinators - bringing investment up to £10m. This followed the unveiling in March of Defra’s new ten-year plan to protect pollinators.
The number of bees in the UK has fallen between 10 and 15 per cent over the last two years and the loss of bee populations globally is causing considerable concern for food security.
This is because they play a fundamental role in pollinating many plants and crops that we rely on for food.
Peter Melchett, SA policy director said: “While new funding and new research are welcome, it will not help if the Government ignores existing scientific evidence that has led other countries to ban chemicals known to kill bees.
“The Government prefers to blame ‘very wet weather’ and poor management by ‘less experienced beekeepers’ than to face their own responsibility to control bee-killing chemicals that have been used on up to 1.5 million acres of farmland in the UK.”
A Defra spokesperson said in response: “The UK has a thorough and robust regulatory system for the approval of pesticides, which many farmers use to produce affordable, high-quality food for consumers, and there is no scientific evidence to support increased restrictions.
“We always keep these matters under review, and if there was evidence of an unacceptable risk to bees we will take action.”
The research project
Defra said that disease and environmental threats to bees have increased significantly over the last five to ten years and climate change has also had a major impact on pollinators.
The research programme aims to gain a better understanding of the complex relationships between biological and environmental factors, which affect the health and lifespan of pollinators
The £10m funding includes £4.3m already announced and it will be made available to research teams across through a joint initiative from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Defra, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Wellcome Trust and the Scottish Government.