Bees, Neonicotinoids And The EU and Brexit
What now for bees in the UK?
Previously, I reported that the EU approved 2 further next generation neonicotinoids: Sulfoxaflor
and Flupyradifurone despite earlier EFSA
conclusions and restrictions. You can read more about here.
Bumble bee foraging on common mallow.
At the time of the Flupyradifurone approval – the second neonicotinoid to be
approved within the space of 3 months, PAN and the European Beekeeping Co-ordination stated:
"....on 9th October 2015, the European Commission authorised
Flupyradifurone, a new neonicotinoid insecticide...........Francesco Panella,
president of Bee Life, criticized the schizophrenia of European Institutions,
restricting the uses of certain molecules for their risk to bees and gaps in
knowledge, while authorising similar molecules in the same
Unfortunately, yet a further insecticide was approved in
August 2016. PAN note:
like neonicotinoids, is a systemic insecticide and is highly toxic to
bees. PAN UK is dismayed that the EC has decided to allow such a
bee-toxic pesticide onto the market. It seems that officials have learned
nothing from the disastrous introduction of neonicotinoids which more and more
studies are linking to large scale pollinator declines.”
Read more by copying and pasting this link into a new window:
Orange-legged furrow bee - Halictus rubicundus (male) foraging on knapweed.
times I have stated in my blogs that without meaningful changes to the
regulations, we are simply banging our heads against a brick wall. Large agrochemical organisations can afford
to keep bringing out new poisons ad infinitum. For all the bleating about
development costs, sales are in the $£billions.
What about the UK?
Honey bees - Apis mellifera foraging on knapweed.
The UK government attempted to block any EU restrictions to
neonicotinoids. However, things have
moved on in the UK since that time.
instance, farmers were denied their two most recent “emergency requests” to use
neonicotinoids (of 3 emergency request, only the first was granted), and the UK “bee
scientist” went to join her former DEFRA colleague at Syngenta – this was widely
publicised, and you can read more about it here.
Things have also changed politically - for example, there is a new DEFRA Secretary.
can we do now?
the time of writing, in the UK there is much uncertainty around Brexit. In my opinion, our actions should be more or
less the same regardless:
- Campaign for genuinely wildlife friendly farming.
- Harness the increasing evidence that farmers
themselves are becoming concerned about soil fertility due to chemical use –
see this example (can be slow to download and opens in a new window) and use this in communications with DEFRA – how are DEFRA
going to help farmers address these concerns?
- A ban on neonicotinoids, and campaign for a complete
overhaul of the regulatory system with honest and transparent testing.
- Campaign for farmers to have unbiased information
regarding “pest threat” – instead of relying on agronomists – 50% of whom work
on commission from agrochemical companies (according to evidence given at the UK EAC inquiry into this issue). Make it illegal to promote
or use insecticides in the absence of pest threat, and to mislead farmers about
the degree of pest threat.
below illustrates that farmers were using pesticides disproportionately to the
level of threat from ‘pest insects’.
I realise some people would like a total ban on all pesticides. However, I think that encouraging and rewarding wildlife friendly farming, ensuring proper information for farmers and a stronger regulatory framework would result in a dramatic reduction in pesticide use, and eventually, better methods, such that the methods used today could become obsolete, and be replaced quite naturally with wildlife friendly methods. But try beating farmers over the head with a stick without giving them help, support and information and we'll get nowhere.
What About Bees Following Brexit?
However, in the event of Brexit, then, as a number of
conservation organisations and scientists state; there is a chance to use this
as an opportunity to gain additional protection for wildlife.
There is general agreement that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) needs to be revised.
Honey bee - Apis mellifera foraging on variegated geranium.
Brexit or not, it provides a golden opportunity, freeing British farming
from the Common Agricultural Policy, and making it possible to steer it
away from industrial, chemical farming towards more sustainable
methods. If we do not, we will lose bees and much else of our wildlife
for ever. " - Professor Dave Goulson, author of A Buzz In the Meadow and Bumblebee Behaviour and Ecology
If we fail to seize this opportunity, we only have ourselves to blame!
So in summary, here are a few things we could do:
Bumble bee and leafcutter bee foraging on thistles.
- Campaign to review the CAP to reward and support
farmers for genuinely wildlife friendly farming practices (rather than giving taxpayer
funds via the EU CAP to Saudi horse breeding princes as the current system has allowed, for example).
- Again, we should demand farmers are given unbiased
information as previously described.
- Demand a ban on
neonicotinoids: 81% of those who voted to leave the EU (and 88% of those who
voted to remain) want to keep the EU ban on neonicotinoid pesticides that have
been found to pose a threat to bees - according to an opinion poll by Friends of the Earth.
- Campaign for a complete overhaul of the regulatory
system with honest and transparent testing.
Independence could be possible: how about a government managed system as
- The agrochemicals industry pays a research fee to a government body for
testing – probably the Chemical Regulations
Directorate. But since we cannot trust our ‘government bee scientists’ it needs to be
overseen by a further independent body with no connection to the NFU or
- The government body allocates the testing to
- The tests are conducted on a ‘blind’ basis: the
University must not know whether or not they are testing a chemical, or the ‘control’,
and the commercial organisation must not be made aware which university is
conducting the tests.
- The results can
then be made public and open to scrutiny.
- These are my initial ideas, and perhaps need some
work, but it would provide universities with additional income, they would have to remain free from corporate influence as a prerequisite to be eligible to perform tests, and we need to have
confidence in the system.
So I'll finish with a point made by Buglife, the Invertebrates Conservation Trust - but they are only one of a good number of genuine conservationists speaking out on this opportunity to improve UK wildlife protection - we miss it at our peril!
"As the UK
Government and devolved administrations move forward in the light of the EU
Referendum result, there is an opportunity to secure world leading protection
for our species and restoration of our nature.
Now is the time to make
ambitious decisions and significant investment in nature to ensure year-on-year
improvement to the health and protection of the UK’s nature and environment for
future generations." - Buglife
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