THE GOVERNMENT is at the centre of storm brewing between environmentalists and agri-chemical companies over the use of some pesticides.
Neonicotinoids are commonly used in Europe to control pests on oilseed rape and other crops. Environmental campaigners and organic groups believe they are harming honeybee populations, but agro-chemical companies deny this is the case.
Research is also proving to be inconclusive.
Just last week, DEFRA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, published the results of field trials by the Food and Environment Agency (FERA), which showed “no clear consistent relationships were observed” between neonicotinoid residues and the health of bee colonies. This was seized upon by the Crop Protection Association.
“This latest research confirms that a ban on the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments would be unlikely to improve bee health,” said CPA chief executive Nick von Westenholz. “I hope it will encourage those who have been calling for a ban on products such as these to take a step back and consider what measures are really needed to protect bee health, rather than simplistically blaming the nearest chemical.”
However, the Soil Association pointed to a separate study published the day before by researchers at the University of Dundee. This showed “a negative impact on bees' ability to learn following exposure to a combination of pesticides commonly used in agriculture”.
The EU has been considering a ban on three widely used pesticides linked to the decline of honeybees, but talks have stalled. Some of the agro-chemical companies have suggested a plan to encourage more bee-friendly habitats and further research. This would replace any plans for a pesticide ban, which they claim will damage the economy.
The Soil Association argues that it is the pesticides that are already damaging the economy. A spokeswoman said: “The numbers of honey bees, bumble bees and other pollinating insects are declining rapidly and there is strong evidence that intensive farming practices and in particular certain pesticides are key culprits. They play a crucial role in pollinating crops and the cost of losing pollinating insects has been calculated to be £1.8 billion to UK farmers.”
Tomorrow, April 5th, the Environmental Audit Committee will publish its report “Pollinators and Pesticides”.