Published on 5 Apr 2013 Sections ,

Ban pesticides to protect bees, MPs tell government

MPs accuse the government of an “extraordinarily complacent approach” to protecting bees, and urge the government to ban use of certain pesticides.

The parliamentary environment audit committee (EAC) has chastised the government over its approach to protecting UK bees, and said it wants a moratorium on the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides, linked to harming bees, on crops such as oil seed rape from the start of next year.

Defra seems to be taking an extraordinarily complacent approach to protecting bees – Joan Walley MP

Bees, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ Healthy Bees plan, are worth between £127m and £277m annually to to the English and Welsh economy based on the value of crops they honey bees are thought to pollinate. Additionally, the value of honey produced in England and Wales is estimated to be be between £26.1m and £38.6m.

Bee-ing complacent?

Joan Walley, chair of the EAC, said: “Defra seems to be taking an extraordinarily complacent approach to protecting bees, given the vital free service that pollinators provide to our economy.

More on this story: Government's top bee scientist says decline 'not caused by pesticides'

“If farmers had to pollinate fruit and vegetables without the help of insects it would cost hundreds of millions of pounds and we would all be stung by rising food prices.

“We believe that the weight of scientific evidence now warrants precautionary action, so we are calling for a moratorium on pesticides linked to bee decline to be introduced by January 1 next year.”

The recommendations are in keeping with the overwhelming scientific evidence that neonicotinoids are having an adverse effect on honeybees and other wild pollinators. Vanessa Amaral-Rogers, Buglife

The committee also wants use of the pesticides to be immediately banned in private gardens and places such as golf courses in order to create “an urban safe haven for bees”.

“There is no justification for people continuing to use these products on their dahlias when they could be having a detrimental effect on pollinator populations,” said Ms Walley.

The recommendations were supported by insect conservation charity Buglife. Vanessa Amaral-Rogers, Buglife’s pesticides officer, said: “We are extremely impressed at the robust stance that the Environmental Audit Committee has taken.

Severe declines in beekeeping have been previously reported, but have reversed in recent years, partly due to an increase in urban beekeeping (picture: Getty)

“The recommendations are in keeping with the overwhelming scientific evidence that neonicotinoids are having an adverse effect on honeybees and other wild pollinators.

“The EAC report is clear that there is now enough evidence to act immediately. This is a stark contrast to Defra’s current stance that further studies are required before action can be taken”.

Don’t bee hasty

Defra’s chief scientific officer has, however, has said it would not be proportionate to ban the three major neonicotinoids – imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin – as laboratory studies have not conclusively proved they are damaging bee colonies.

The British government resisted calls from the European Commission to restrict the use of certain neonicotinoids on crops that are attractive to bees.

If we ban these, farmers will go back to older chemistries, such as pyrethroids, which could be much more damaging in the long run. Richard Benyon, environment minister

Professor Ian Boyd also raised concerns about the environmental problems that may be caused by other pesticides, if the neonicotinoids were banned.

The UK had urged the commission to wait for the results of a government-commissioned field study on bumble bees, which did not show conclusively that there was a major impact on the insects from the pesticides.

Environment Minister Richard Benyon also told Radio 4’s Today rogramme: “We want to make sure that we have the necessary evidence. If the evidence backs up action that bans these chemicals then we will take that action.

Before any such moratorium is imposed, a full and thorough risk and impact assessment must be carried-out – British Beekeepers’ Association

“But there is a growing body of opinion that says that the research on which the committee report was based saw doses that is not reflective in field-scale when bees and other pollinators come in contact with neonicotinoids.

“We are saying to the European Commission, if they are going to do this, they need to carry out proper field-scale surveys to decide once and for all whether this would be the right step to take.

“If we ban these, farmers will go back to older chemistries, such as pyrethroids, which could be much more damaging in the long run.”

Bee afraid - the perils of being a bee

Bacterial diseases: American and European foulbrood disease, both of which occur in the UK, are bacterial diseases that target bee larvae and are highly infectious. The American verswion is considered to be more serious, though the European version is more wideley spread.

Varroa mites: parasitic mites that feed to the bodily fluids of adult bees, pupae and larvae. They can pass on deadly viruses to the bees which have been responsible for wiping out whole colonies.

Colony collapse disorder: a phenomenon in which worker bees suddenly disappear from a hive. Theories for why this occurs vary, including the aforementioned diseases and parasites, pesticides and electro-magnetic radiation. Media reports have previously linked mobile phones to the phenomenon, through there is no evidence to support this.

Decline in beekeeping: the majority of beekeeping in the UK is conducted by amateurs and, as it because more difficult to maintain the health of bees, there have been concerns over a decline in beekeeping. However, in 2011 it was reported that this trend was being reversed - with membership of the British Beekeepers Association doubling in three years, helped by a rise in urban beekeeping (see picture, above).

Dalek threat: fans of Doctor Who will be aware that the bees are aliens, and leave Earth to return to their home planet of Melissa Majoria when the Earth is under threat from the Daleks. Defra or any other government organisation have not produced any evidence to support this theory.

And the British Beekeepers Association has also said more tests should be taken before a ban is introduced.

In a statement, the organisation said: “Whilst the BBKA is concerned about the possible damage that these substances may be inflicting on pollinators, it notes that unequivocal field based studies have not been conducted and the evidence is incomplete.

“Perhaps more importantly, the BBKA does not wish to see any action taken that may in itself cause damage to pollinators for example by the inevitable re-adoption by farmers of older superseded and more hazardous chemical agents being re-employed in crop protection.

“Before any such moratorium is imposed, a full and thorough risk and impact assessment must be carried-out to ensure that we do not end-up with a worsened situation.”

A spokesman for Defra said decisions “must be based on sound scientific evidence”, and said that is why the government wants a “major new field study” rather than “rushing into a knee-jerk reaction”.

According to the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, managed hives of honeybees declined by 50 per cent between 1985 and 2005. Bumble bees and solitary bees, which are not managed, also appear to be declining in numbers.

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