The NFU has applied for an emergency licence to apply neonicotinoid seed treatments to oilseed rape crops sown this autumn. The chemicals are currently under an EU-wide ban because of evidence that they pose a risk to bees and other pollinators. Research by independent scientists has continued to strengthen this evidence and raised further concerns that neonicotinoids could potentially harm other wildlife as well.
Peter Lundgren is a Lincolnshire farmer who grows oilseed rape and other combinable crops. He stopped using neonicotinoids in 2013. Peter said: “So far I am managing well without neonicotinoids and I am constantly looking to improve my system further. Any pesticide can have unwanted impacts, but with sprays these can be minimised by following best practice, like only spraying if pest thresholds are exceeded. For me this is one of the advantages of moving away from seed treatments, where you have to make a decision even before the growing season starts. And the cost to my business of not using neonicotinoid seed treatment is minimal - just £2.20 per hectare. As far as I’m concerned this cost is outweighed by the importance of conserving our pollinator populations.”
Dave Timms, Friends of the Earth said: “Bees are crucial for our food and farming. In a month when the Government’s Chief Scientist has highlighted the growing evidence that neonicotinoids are posing a threat to our wildlife, it is particularly worrying that the NFU continues to take this blinkered approach."
Nick Mole, Pesticide Action Network UK, said: “In autumn 2014, for the first time in over ten years, none of the oilseed rape sown in the UK was treated with neonicotinoids. About 5% of the area sown was lost to pests, and current predictions are for a good oilseed rape harvest later this summer. Some farmers were hit harder, and crop losses are obviously a blow for any farmer – but the levels of damage seen do not constitute an emergency by any stretch of the imagination.”
Louise Payton of the Soil Association added: “The ban on neonicotinoids is blamed for posing localised challenges to the oilseed rape sector, but the answer isn’t to bring back a pesticide that’s known to be harmful to wildlife, or to increase the use of other pesticides that bring their own problems. What farmers need is government, researchers and farming organisations to work together to promote more sustainable, wildlife-friendly ways of managing pests.”
Ellie Crane, RSPB, said: "Declining pollinator populations, degraded soils, disappearing farmland birds: these are challenges the sector urgently needs to face up to. Given the evidence that the use of neonicotinoids could be contributing to these environmental losses, the only responsible approach is to stop using them while the necessary research is carried out.”
Matt Shardlow, Buglife, said: “The evidence is resounding: neonicotinoids destroy populations of wild bees. To risk further damage to our pollinator life support system would be highly irresponsible. This ban-busting application must be firmly rejected.”
Last year, a similar application by Syngenta for an exemption to the ban was withdrawn after a petition signed by over 200,000 people was handed in at Downing Street.
- The Bee Coalition formed in 2012 when the UK’s main environmental groups joined forces to call for a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides that are toxic to bees and pollinators. A core group of organisations (Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, ClientEarth, Environmental Justice Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Natural Beekeeping Trust, Pesticide Action Network, RSPB, Soil Association, Scottish Wildlife Trust, The Wildlife Trusts) is working to bring attention to the plight of bees and pollinators and specifically to engage policymakers, industry and the public about their respective roles in ensuring their protection.
- The EU moratorium on neonicotinoids was implemented in December 2013 and is due to be reviewed in December 2015. It prevents the use of neonicotinoids on crops known to be attractive to bees and other pollinating insects. These restrictions were introduced in response to a European Food Safety Authority report which found that neonicotinoids posed unacceptable risks to bees.
- Research on neonicotinoids has been reviewed by a Global Task Force on systemic insecticides and most recently by the European Academies Science Advisory Council. Both groups concluded that current use of neonicotinoids could pose a threat to a range of wildlife.
- Sir Mark Walport, Government Chief Scientist, gave a speech to the Crop Protection Association on 14 May 2015 which referred to recent evidence of harm to bees from use of neonicotinoids.
- Friends of the Earth and Buglife are urging people to take part in the Great British Bee Count, a citizen science project that is taking place throughout May. A free app can be downloaded here.