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Ban on ‘bee-harming’ neonicotinoid pesticides extended to all outdoor crops after EU vote

PUBLISHED: 13:09 27 April 2018 | UPDATED: 13:15 27 April 2018

A honey bee on an oilseed rape flower.  Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

A honey bee on an oilseed rape flower. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Archant Norfolk 2015

A controversial pesticide has been banned by the EU for all outdoor crops – prompting celebrations among nature campaigners, but anger among farming leaders.

The ban on neonicotinoid pesticides has been extended to all outdoor crops, including East Anglia's sugar beet.  Picture: James BassThe ban on neonicotinoid pesticides has been extended to all outdoor crops, including East Anglia's sugar beet. Picture: James Bass

Neonicotinoids were already banned for flowering crops like oilseed rape, after concerns were raised about their potential impact on the health of bees and pollinators.

But now the ban for three neonicotinoids – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – has been extended to all outdoor crops following a vote by EU member states.

It means farmers will not be allowed to use the chemicals to protect any field-grown plants, including East Anglia’s staple sugar beet crops, when the new measures come into force following a phasing-out period of around eight months.

Guy Smith is deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), which has maintained that there is insufficient scientific evidence to justify a ban.

The ban on neonicotinoid pesticides has been extended to all outdoor crops, including East Anglia's sugar beet.  Picture: James BassThe ban on neonicotinoid pesticides has been extended to all outdoor crops, including East Anglia's sugar beet. Picture: James Bass

He said: “This decision doesn’t change the fact that farmers will continue to face challenges to maintain sustainable and productive cropping systems and the pest problems that neonicotinoids helped farmers tackle have not gone away.

“Most agronomists agree that without neonicotinoids many crops grown in the UK will become less viable and a ban could simply mean we import more crops from parts of the world where there is no political desire to ban these key insecticides. So we will be looking to both the UK government and the [European] Commission to work with the industry to mitigate the effect of a ban on both food production and the environment.

“The NFU believes a risk-based approach should be taken on this issue, where the impacts of potential changes are fully understood and recognised as providing genuine opportunities to improve bee and pollinator health. There is a real risk that these restrictions will do nothing measurable to improve bee health, while compromising the effectiveness of crop protection.”

Wildlife campaigners welcomed the ban as a “major victory”.

Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, who runs an organic farm in west Norfolk, said: “The clear evidence of neonicotinoids’ harm to pollinators, and to wildlife in general, has been mounting for some time.

“Almost all of the toxic neonicotinoid spray gets into the soil rather than the crop, and from there to wild flowers and hedges around the edges of fields. Bees and other insects prefer feeding on wildflowers, which neonicotinoids can turn into deadly toxic traps.

“Today’s vote by EU member states, to extend their ban of neonicotinoids to include all outdoor crops, is a welcome demonstration that this overwhelming evidence can no longer be ignored.”

Friends of the Earth bees campaigner Emi Murphy added: “This a major victory for science, common sense and our under-threat bees. The evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides pose a threat to our bees is overwhelming.”

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

Defra backed the ban after environment secretary Michael Gove said tougher restrictions on neonicotinoids are justified by the growing weight of scientific evidence they are harmful to bees and other pollinators.

This followed advice from the UK government’s advisory body on pesticides which said scientific evidence now suggests the environmental risks posed by neonicotinoids – particularly to bees and pollinators – are greater than previously understood.

Defra said the value of the UK’s 1,500 species of pollinators to crops had been estimated at £400-680m per year due to improved productivity.

A Defra spokesman said: “We are committed to enhancing our environment for the next generation, and welcome the vote today in support of further restrictions on neonicotinoids.

“The government has always been clear we will be led by the science on this matter. The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids may pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators is greater than previously understood.

“We recognise the impact a ban will have on farmers and will continue to work with them to explore alternative approaches as we design a new agricultural policy outside the European Union.”

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