UK Government Study On Effects Of Neonicotinoids On Bumblebees Was Flawed

In 2013 the UK’s Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA) made public a study of the impacts of exposure of bumble bee colonies to neonicotinoids.

The study concluded that there was no clear relationship between colony performance and pesticide exposure, and the study was subsequently cited by the UK government in a policy paper in support of their vote against a proposed moratorium on some uses of neonicotinoids. 

The authors of the report were:  Helen Thompson, Paul Harrington, Selwyn Wilkins, Stephane Pietravalle, Dinah Sweet and Ainsley Jones.

The relevance here, is that these Civil Servants advise government ministers, of whichever political party is in power.

At the time, the study was heavily criticised - for one thing, it had no proper controls and was not peer reviewed.

University of Cambridge scientist, Dr Lynn Dicks said:

    “looking at the data in the report it seems there could be some subtle impacts on bumblebee colony performance at these exposure levels.  I would really like access to the raw data.”

Professor Goulson, one of the world's foremost bumblebee experts said:

    "Aside from the glaring lack of controls and the hopeless experimental design, I’m pretty sure the statistical methods are fundamentally flawed.

    But I think the biggest issue is that this work has not been peer reviewed in any way – I am sure that, if it had, it would have been torn to shreds. It certainly would if I were reviewing it, which would be quite likely if it were actually submitted to a reputable journal.

    It is not publishable in anything like its current form.

    This is "Facebook Science" – doing a rushed, poorly designed piece of work, writing it up badly, and whacking it on the internet. That is not how science is done."  

Update: March 2015

Recently, Professor Dave Goulson has examined the raw data from the FERA bumblebee study, and concludes in his peer reviewed assessment that:

"these data in fact do show a negative relationship between both colony growth and queen production and the levels of neonicotinoids in the food stores collected by the bees.

Indeed, this is the first study describing substantial negative impacts of neonicotinoids on colony performance of any bee species with free-flying bees in a field realistic situation where pesticide exposure is provided only as part of normal farming practices.

It strongly suggests that wild bumblebee colonies in farmland can be expected to be adversely affected by exposure to neonicotinoids."

Read the study.

Listen to Professor Goulson speaking about his re-analysis of the FERA data:

In 2007,  Helen Thompson co-authored a paper with Christian Maus of BayerCropScience: "Perspective The relevance of sublethal effects in honey bee testing for pesticide risk assessment", published by Pest Management Science.

In this paper, Thompson and Maus conclude that separate testing of sub-lethal effects of pesticides on bees shouldn't be necessary.  However, it has been repeatedly shown that sub-lethal effects are indeed relevant, and are referred to in BayerCropScience literature with regard to the control of termites.

Later, Dr Helen Thompson went to work for Syngenta, joining another former UK government employee, Dr Peter Campbell, who used to work for the Chemical Regulations Directorate.

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