Westminster: Environment Audit Committee stings like a bee


“More research is needed to monitor pollinator populations and establish the impact that particular pesticides are having, but Defra must not use this as an excuse to avoid urgent precautionary action.”

On 05 April the Environmental Audit Committee, Parliament’s cross-party watchdog released a powerful criticism of Defra’s policies around Bee death in its report Pollinators and pesticides.

The report calls for the use of imidacloprid, clothianidin and TMX pesticides to be suspended on flowering crops which attract bees and other pollinating insects. The report argues that there is sufficient evidence from a growing body of peer-reviewed research that the use of these neonicotinoid insecticides is having an especially damaging impact on pollinators. The chemicals are routinely applied to seeds including in the UK on oilseed rape, cereals, maize, sugar beet and crops grown in glasshouses to protect them from soil living pests. The concern is against a backdrop of wider evidence that two-thirds of wild insect pollinator species – such as bumblebees, hoverflies, butterflies, carrion flies, beetles, midges and moths have also suffered significant population declines in the UK which points to a systemic problem.

Managed honeybees have experienced unusually high mortality rates for some time with symptoms including decreased fertility, increased susceptibility to disease and the loss of hives. Similar trends have been observed in the US and other European countries. The three nicotinomide insecticides have been implicated in bee death in a number of studies, and the committee criticised Defra for refusing to back European Union efforts to ban the insecticides.  Authorities in France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia have already suspended the use of some neonicotinoids in certain circumstances.  The European Commission has also proposed an EU-wide moratorium on the use of imidacloprid, clothianidin and TMX on crops attractive to bees, following a recent risk warning from the European Food Safety Authority.  Defra has refused to take domestic action or to support the EU proposal.

The Committee Chair Joan Walley MP is reported saying that “Defra seems to be taking an extraordinarily complacent approach to protecting bees given the vital free service that pollinators provide to our economy.”

The Committee agreed that further research is import as a variety of factors impact on insect populations including disease, habitat loss and climate, but they felt there was more than sufficient evidence to call for a halt on the use of the insecticides following the precautionary principal.

Pesticide manufacturers often claim that studies linking their products to bee decline are flawed or inconclusive and that other factors are primarily to blame, such as the Varroa mite. But although the agrochemical industry has produced many studies on the environmental effect of pesticides, it keeps most of its data secret on grounds of commercial confidentiality. The report warns that this lack of transparency is preventing a fuller understanding of the problem.  The MPs call on the industry to place the results of its trials and studies in the public domain so that they can be subjected to open academic scrutiny.

The insecticide producers have also argued there is no direct contact between the seeds and the pollinating insects. However these insecticides are systemic, moving through the plants with water drawn up for the roots. One theory about uptake is supported by the German Bee Keepers Federation. They point out that in the morning insects drink water droplets off leafs and young shoots. In humid conditions plants guttate – that is water they transpires does not evaporate but instead form water droplets on their leafs. The bee keepers point out that as the insecticides can also pass directly to these droplets there is a direct route for the insecticide uptake.

Many of the UK’s largest garden retailers, including B&Q, Wickes and Homebase, have voluntarily withdrawn non-professional plant protection products that contain neonicotinoids.  The report recommends a full ban on the sale of neonicotinoids for public domestic use, in order to create an urban safe haven for pollinators.

The Government’s National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides published earlier this year was a missed opportunity, according to the Committee. Clearer targets are needed to reduce reliance on pesticides as far as possible. And Integrated Pest Management – which emphasizes alternatives to pesticides, but does not preclude their use – should be made the central principle of the plan.

“More research is needed to monitor pollinator populations and establish the impact that particular pesticides are having, but Defra must not use this as an excuse to avoid urgent precautionary action.”

One response to “Westminster: Environment Audit Committee stings like a bee

  1. Pingback: The Welsh lead on action plans for pollinators | bio-Diverse·

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