A “growing weight” of scientific evidence documenting the impact on bees and pollinators justify “tougher restrictions” on neonicotinoid pesticides, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said yesterday (9 November).
The UK government’s advisory body on pesticides concluded evidence now suggests that the environmental risks posed by neonicotinoids, particularly to bees and pollinators, is “greater than previously understood”. This supports the case for further restrictions, the body said.
“Recent field-based experiments have suggested these effects could exist. In combination with the observation of widespread and increasing use of these chemicals, the available evidence justifies taking further steps to restrict the use of neonicotinoids,” Defra’s chief scientific advisor Professor Ian Boyd explained.
Research estimates the value of the UK’s 1,500 species of pollinators to crops at £400-680m per year due to improved productivity.
Responding to this, the Secretary of State said the UK will maintain restrictions on the pesticide after the UK’s exit from the European Union.
Setting out what he described as a “vision for a green Brexit”, Gove insisted that the UK “cannot afford” to put pollinator populations at risk.
“I’ve always been clear I will be led by the science on this matter. The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators, which play such a key part in our £100bn food industry, is greater than previously understood.
"I recognise the impact further restrictions will have on farmers and I am keen to work with them to explore alternative approaches both now and as we design a new agricultural policy outside the European Union.”
In December 2013, the EU banned the use of three neonicotinoids – Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam – on a number of crops attractive to bees. Currently, their use is banned for oilseed rape, spring cereals and sprays for winter cereals. They can be used to treat sugar beet and as seed treatments for winter cereals.
The European Commission has proposed further restricting the use of Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam to plants in greenhouses.
Environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth stressed that Gove must now demonstrate his support for tougher restrictions at the upcoming EU vote to ratify this proposal.
The group launched a petition to support the ban yesterday – and it has already gained more than 17,000 signatures.
NFU questions conclusions
Responding to the news, the National Farmers Union questioned whether a body of evidence exists to support this about-face in policy.
“We deeply regret the decision the Government has taken on this issue as we don’t believe the evidence justifies this abrupt change in policy. We will continue to speak to the Government about how the impact of the decision can best be mitigated so that farmers can maintain sustainable and productive cropping systems,” Dr Chris Hartfield, NFU acting chief science and regulatory affairs adviser, said.
Dr Hartfield stressed that farmers are aware of the role bees play in agriculture and highlighted that farmers are working to keep bee populations healthy.
“Farmers are acutely aware that bees play a crucial role in food production. Farmers rely on bees to pollinate crops and have planted around 10,000 football pitches of flower habitat across the country to support a healthy bee population and give them a good home,” he said.