Pressure grows for pesticide ban after European report ‘confirms’ impact on bees

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

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

Archant Norfolk 2015

A new scientific report which “confirms” the threat to bees from neonicotinoid pesticides does not justify a complete ban on the chemicals, said farming leaders.

The assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) says “most uses” of the three neonicotinoids studied pose a risk to pollinators including wild solitary bees, bumblebees and honeybees.

Use of the controversial pesticides – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – is already restricted in the EU on flowering crops such as oilseed rape, because of concerns they harm bees’ ability to forage and form colonies.

But the new report has added weight to conservationists’ calls for a total ban on the chemicals, with EU member states soon due to debate the European Commission’s proposal to extend the ban on seed treatments for crops including East Anglian staples like sugar beet and winter cereals.

Dr Chris Hartfield, senior regulatory affairs adviser at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), is concerned the assessments “fail to take proper account of what is happening to bees in real field situations”, where he said a range of factors influence bee declines – including significant examples which pre-date the use of neonicotinoids.

“The reality is that there is a balance between environmental protection and food production that has to be considered and the impacts of a ‘no neonicotinoid’ scenario on pollinators also need to be fully assessed,” he said. “Without this, there is a real risk that current restrictions on neonicotinoid use will continue to do nothing measurable to improve bee health, while compromising the effectiveness of crop protection.

“The NFU wants to see a risk-based approach 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.”

Jose Tarazona, head of Efsa’s pesticides unit, said that “overall the risk to the three types of bees we have assessed is confirmed”.

Bees can be exposed to the pesticides by foraging on flowering crops, from pollen and nectar containing residues of the chemicals, through plants in the vicinity of the crop which have been contaminated by dust drifting away from the field and through contaminated soil, Efsa said.

Friends of the Earth called for an urgent outdoor ban on the chemicals, with campaigner Sandra Bell warning “we have been playing Russian roulette with the future of our bees for far too long”.

“The UK government has already said it will support a complete ban on the outdoor use of these three bee-harming chemicals - a move that is fully justified by this report,” she said. “Other EU countries must now back a tougher ban too.

“Ministers must also use their post-Brexit farming policy to help our farmers to work in harmony with nature – and not against it.

“This must include an overhaul of the pesticide approval process, and a reduction in their overall use.”

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