Richard North And Christopher Booker Wrong About Bees And Neonicotinoids

I have grave concerns about the EU, and would vote to leave.  People will no doubt find it odd when I say I believe the EU has failed bees and fails the environment - but that's a matter for another blog.

For now, I am more concerned about addressing badly informed EU-sceptic arguments to defend neonicotinoids. 

I refer to a blog post and newspaper article that appeared some time ago,  one by Christopher Booker for The Telegraph "Greens used EU cash to push for damaging pesticides ban", and one by Richard North: Neonicotinoids And The Tyranny Of The Greens.

You can read both of these by copying and pasting this link into your browser:

An Investigation Into Richard North's Arguments

Since there is very strong overlap between the arguments used by Booker and North, I will address the more detailed piece by North.

Here, I address the main points, with quotes from the item in blue boxes below.

Richard North: "Booker: neonicotinoids and the tyranny of the Greens"

Booker records last week's revelation of a document showing that a campaign which last year pushed the EU into a damaging ban on certain insecticides was deliberately engineered, on the basis of highly questionable evidence, by a group of environmentally committed scientists working for a green pressure group, the International Union for Conservation in Nature (IUCN).

This is wrong.  Firstly, it is a moratorium for use of neonics on flowering crops, not a full ban.

Secondly, honey bee colony losses in England 2012 -13 were as high as 53% - overall increase in bee colonies is simply because of the upsurge in beekeeping and more beekeepers keeping more bees in order to hedge against colony losses.

Thirdly, it is simply wrong to state that the EU’s decision has come about due to the activities of the IUCN. 

-         From the early 2000’s and prompted by beekeeper protests across Europe, there have been various levels of investigation, with scientific study, initiated by governments, such as France.  The French Ministries of Agriculture ordered a FIELD investigation by scientist, Bonmatin. Results highlighted the danger of neonics,  and Bonmatin received threats following publication. 

-         As sales of neonics increased throughout Europe, more and more problems with honey bee losses were reported – and in many cases, with NO Varroa present. 

-         In the UK, most of the awareness raising was done by independent volunteers such as myself, with NO financial incentive or gain from ANYWHERE.  The charity, Buglife – not in receipt at that time of any special funding (from the EU fund or otherwise) compiled an assessment of the data available thus far, and published it in 2009 – i.e. prior to work by the IUCN.  They used the data to engage with UK government.  The responses coming via the DEFRA advisor to Paterson of the time, (i.e. ‘Bee Scientist’ Helen Thompson), inadequately  addressed the issues raised within the Buglife report.

-         Other independent scientists also looked into the issue without ANY vested interest funding from ANYWHERE including Tennekes, Girolami, Colin et al etc.  Later studies from the likes of UK scientist, Prof Goulson (who you implicate by association with the IUCN), conducted his study without any funds  AND in his spare time.

-         In the 2000s, in the UK, many beekeepers, incidentally, left the BBKA in objection to the BBKA board covertly accepting funds from the pesticide industry, with some members of the BBKA board having a disconcertingly close relationship, according to the feelings of some beekeepers.  (More recently, a survey of British beekeepers indicated that they overwhelmingly unhappy that the BBKA had failed to support a ban on neonics and wanted to be allowed a fair vote on the issue).

-         MPs and MEPs were contacted by members of the public, not ‘the Green Lobby’.  As a result, MEPs of different political alliances, lobbied for an investigation into neonics by EFSA and for a UK Inquiry (which was done and advocated a moratorium on neonics, and withdrawal for amateur use).  The EFSA panel comprised many independent scientists and took months and months to complete.  The first report was published in 2012.  It had nothing to do with the IUCN.  The IUCN report came later, and is a synthesis of 1,121 published peer-reviewed studies spanning the last five years, including industry-sponsored ones.

The point, of course, is that bringing a new pesticide to market is expensive – each different product costing about £150 million – of which about £90 million is absorbed in the development phase, much of it spent in obtaining "market authorisation" under Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009.

And what of it?  That is one of the costs of entry to a market that is worth billions in sales. 

In 2012, Syngenta’s seed care sales increased and exceeded 1.1 billion USD – that’s just one company – one year sales. 

Whether or not we could regulate better and more cost effectively in Britain on our own, is a valid question.  However, the emphasis of regulation should be on protecting public and environment! 

That is a cost of entry to any market, and it is what regulations are for, otherwise there is no point in having them.  I certainly do not want companies to be able to throw any chemical they like around the countryside.

The ban on the use of neonicotinoids in December last year, therefore, has been very costly to the chemical giants that produced them, but it has also done huge damage to agriculture all over Europe. An official EU report estimates the cost to British farmers alone at £630 million.

On the one hand Richard, you accuse IUCN scientists of having an agenda,  practically implying they wilfully followed instruction to conduct dodgy science as per an ‘anti-industry’ instruction from the EU. 

And yet, you fail to point out that the ‘EU Official Report’ you refer to, is actually the HFFA (Humboldt), and  is not an ‘independent EU body’ at all.  It is little more than an industry lobby group, funded, overseen, and managed by those with a direct vested interest – i.e. members of the agro-chemical industry, all of this information being very visible on the HFFA website.  Far from being an EU report, to me it looks more like a piece of propaganda, with tissue paper thin, unsubstantiated arguments – that is the report you are shamefully supporting. 

On the other hand, how many of the 1121 scientific papers interrogated by the IUCN did you actually read? 

As regard ‘damage to agriculture’, this is wrong, which I expand upon below, but in the meantime; with regard to EU crops:

“The 2014/2015 cereal marketing year closes with record exports and stock replenishment supported by a best ever production. Next harvest expected to be also above average”.


When the Commission accordingly proposed its ban, few questioned it more strongly than the chief scientific adviser to the UK's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which was why opposition to it in Brussels was led by his minister Owen Paterson. Defra's own field trials had shown no damage to bees, whereas the IUCN relied only on highly artificial laboratory experiments.

The field trial (not trials) you refer to was shamefully flawed.  It had no controls (because they were found to be contaminated with a neonic), treated ‘inconvenient data’ as outliers, and was neither peer reviewed nor published. 

It was trashed by independent scientists, and a damming critique of it was peer reviewed and published.  The flawed study was headed up by the aforementioned UK Govt ‘Bee scientist’ (Helen Thompson).  Very quickly after releasing it, her name along with the names of other authors, was removed from the study.  Very soon after authoring the flawed study, Thompson then followed her former Chemical Regulations Directorate colleague, Peter Campbell, to work for Syngenta. 

Thompson had previously worked on a number of projects with Bayer CropScience, and had taken the odd trip abroad such as to the ICPBR group (an industry group which influences pesticide regulations) whilst the tax payer paid her salary! 

However, a later trial by DEFRA found that residues of neonics remain in the soil years after first application, confirming the ‘persistence in soil’ characteristic of neonics admitted to by the agro-industry, and thus confirming the potential of these chemicals to build in the soil to unacceptable levels.

Paterson had no firmer ally than his Hungarian counterpart, whose own scientists had shown that, despite extensive use of neonics on two million hectares of oil seed rape, maize and sunflowers, honey yields had not fallen at all.

Really?  Reliable, corrupt-free  data coming from Hungary, and nothing but corrupt nonsense from hundreds of independent, global papers coupled with corrupt ‘honey decline’ data coming from the French and corrupt ‘up to 53% colony losses data’ from England!  Does that really sound plausible?

But the IUCN's "science" carried the day, with the result that across Britain farmers have been reporting the loss of up to 30 percent or more of their oil seed rape crop.

This is wrong.  The EFSA ruling carried the day. 

And again, where on earth do you get this data regarding oil seed rape loss? 


“The provisional oilseed rape harvest has shown an increase of 17% to 2.5 million tonnes for 2014.  This increase in production has been a result of both an increased planted area and an increase in yield of winter sown oilseed rape by 6.3% and 20% respectively. 

The reduction in the overall planted area of oilseed rape comes mainly from the fall in the planted area of spring sown oilseed rape in England from 92 thousand hectares in 2013 to 13 thousand hectares in 2014.  The overall oilseed rape yield has increased by 25% to 3.7 tonnes per hectare following favourable weather conditions in 2014.“

And  the Home Grown Cereal Authority (hardly a ‘cave-dwelling green lobby’ body), state that UK oil seed rape yield decreased only by about 1.35%, but yes, for the tiny numbers who experienced losses, those losses were high. They state that on a national level, the impact of flea beetle was, however, modest.

So in view of these small losses, we should surely ask ourselves, how unusual were these losses in any case?

The irony is that one of the advantages of neonics was that they were much less environmentally damaging than the pesticides they replaced, such as organo-phosphates.

You can’t have it both ways.  Either our regulatory system is fit for purpose, or it is not.

After all, do you mean to say that organo-phosphates, which are allowed by our regulatory system (and not having gone through a rigorous re-assessment) might be more dangerous than neonics, whose:  a) entry onto the market coincides with substantial honey bee colony losses, b) was supported by questionable regulatory standards, and c) whose own marketing literature & patents claim efficacy against Lepidoptera (moths & butterflies) Vespa (wasps) and super organisms such as termite colonies? 

But don't get me wrong, I'm not defending organophospates, and if they are more dangerous for bees than neonics, then I recommend they are banned immediately.  I would happily see a reassessment of these chemicals too. 

But we could also start helping farmers by giving them independent information regarding pest levels, and the need (or not) to apply insecticides in the first place.  Farmers could save a huge amount of money.  For example, research by ADAS (again, hardly a ‘green lobby’ group!) shows that for many years, farmers unquestioningly applied insecticide for pollen beetle when levels of infestation did not justify it. 

When you consider this fact, and the very low levels of oil seed rape crop loss, you really begin to wonder whether farmers are best served by agronomists (50% of whom are on commission courtesy of the agri-industry).

This is yet another example of the bizarre symbiosis the EU has established with green pressure groups, as it showers out hundreds of millions of euros a year for them to lobby it for the all-too often destructive policies they want.

Whether this is true or not, nothing you have stated in this misinformed piece, substantiates the idea that neonics should not be banned.

However, my take on it is that the EU is a haven for big corporate lobbyists, and it looks like agri-business is about the biggest lobby group:

Among those who fell for the dubious science behind this particular ban was David Cameron. In their final tetchy interview last July he raised it as one of his chief reasons for sacking Mr Paterson: easily the best-informed and most effective Defra minister we've ever had.

No, I am an EU sceptic these days and like him, I would vote to leave the EU tomorrow, but Mr Paterson decided not to be well-informed on this issue. 

Certainly he failed to answer the questions submitted to him by my MP and others, and failed to address and support the valid concerns of the UK EAC inquiry into this matter.

Paterson himself referred to this country becoming a "museum of farming" if this Green tyranny continues. Already between 1995 and 2005, the cost of bringing a new pesticide to market has risen on average by 68.4 percent. Research costs have risen by 18.0 percent, but regulatory-related costs by 117.9 percent.

It is very important that regulation keeps pace with developments in industry, whatever the sector.

The money is moving to the United States, Latin America and Asia, making the Greens a luxury we cannot afford.

Is it moving to areas where the agro-chemical industry can escape proper regulation, and possibly hope to get back into the EU via TTIP? 

Personally, I am in favour of less toxic methods of protecting our crops.  Actually, there are small companies innovating in this area, whereas poor regulation does little to encourage those with big budgets to really innovate to provide better solutions to our problems.

In summary.....

I have grave concerns about UK membership of the EU.  Fish stocks, corruption, loss of sovereignty are all a real concern to me. 


I believe the EU has failed bees, because despite all the evidence, a full ban was not forthcoming. I also think that a UK ban on neonics would have been possible by now, because it would have been proposed by the UK Inquiry, and probably voted on – and we might just have got the ban through. 


However,  Dutch MPs voted unanimously to ban neonics, but felt they could not go beyond the EU moratorium.  I wonder if the Dutch government would have faced legal action from the Agrochemicals industry had it done so.


In the meantime, I would like farmers to be given better, independent information about ‘pest threats’ to prevent them being stitched up by agri-chemicals (a cost they must then pass on to consumers) and have a stronger regulatory system in Britain.  

Whilst I am disappointed that Liz Truss has recently agreed to allow neonics to be used on 5% of crops in England, I note she has felt unable to cede to the demands of the NFU and agri-chemicals to overturn the moratorium completely, despite the pressure I'm sure she must have come up against.  However, I think that ensuring farmers only applied chemicals in response to real threat, would go a long way in helping farmers and the environment, because it  would demonstrate the truth, thus freeing them from profiteering and scaremongering opportunists who would have them unnecessarily apply poisons to their land, and at great cost.   


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