Government rejects the science behind neonicotinoid ban

honey bee Scientific disputes continue over the impacts of neonicotinoid chemicals on bees

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The government says it accepts the EU ban on the use of some pesticides linked to bee deaths, but it rejects the science behind the moratorium.

In a response to the Environmental Audit Committee, the government does not acknowledge the case for a ban on these chemicals for gardeners.

The Committee says they are disappointed with this approach.

The National Farmers Union says the government view is "balanced and sensible".

Last April, the European Commission agreed to a EU wide ban for two years from December on some neonicotinoid chemicals, used on crops attractive to bees.

Start Quote

There is no justification for people using these products on their Dahlias when they could be damaging pollinator populations”

End Quote Joan Whalley, MP Environmental Audit Committee

While there has been scientific division on the impact of these pesticides on bees, the British government strongly opposed the plans.

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) criticised the government's approach in their report earlier this year.

The government now says that they accept the ban but not the science behind it.

"We opposed these restrictions because our assessment was (and remains) that the evidence did not point to risks to pollinators that would justify the proposed restrictions," they wrote in a response that has been published by the Committee.

What exactly are Neonicotinoids?

  • Nicotine is not just lethal to humans in the form of cigarettes, but the chemical is also extremely toxic to insects
  • Neonicotinoid pesticides are new nicotine-like chemicals and act on the nervous systems of insects with a lower threat to mammals and the environment than many older sprays
  • Pesticides made in this way are water soluble which means they can be applied to the soil and taken up by the whole plant - they are called "systemic", meaning they turn the plant itself into a poison factory with toxins coming from roots, leaves, stems and pollen
  • Neonicotinoids are often applied as seed treatments which means coating the seeds before planting.

The government stated they were not convinced by the results of laboratory studies showing harmful effects to bees from these chemicals. They argue that an "increasing number of field-realistic studies have failed to find an effect of neonicotinoids on bees."

They also rejected the idea of banning the sale of neonicotinoids for use by gardeners and in parks.

However the chair of the EAC, Joan Walley, MP says she is not happy with the government's ongoing wrangling over the science.

"I am disappointed that the government has not accepted the great weight of scientific evidence that points to the need for the ban on these pesticides in line with the precautionary principle," she said.

"There is no justification for people using these products on their Dahlias when they could be damaging pollinator populations."

bees The government says that the sale of neonicotinoid chemicals to amateur gardeners should continue

However the National Farmer's Union welcomed the government's response to the Committee. Dr Chris Hartfield said it was a balanced and sensible assessment of the science.

"While acknowledging the importance of pollinators, the government's response also importantly recognises the value to society of food production and the underpinning role pesticides play in that production," he said.

"These benefits have to be part of the consideration when managing the risks posed to the environment by pesticides."

Both Syngenta and Bayer, which manufacture the chemicals at the centre of the moratorium, are now taking legal action against the European Commission in an effort to overturn the ban.

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