Seventeen of the UK’s biggest environmental groups have called on the UK Government to retain the ban on neonicotinoid pesticides and extend it to all crops.
On the third anniversary of the EU ban, the organisations have written an open letter to ministers which says there is now ‘more than enough evidence’ to support the ban and it is essential to keep it to reverse the decline of bees and other pollinators.
Chief executives from Friends of the Earth, the RSPB, the Soil Association, Greenpeace and the Wildlife Trusts have signed the letter.
Dr Penelope Whitehorn, applied ecologist at the University of Sterling, said neonicotinoids should ‘go the way of DDT and be permanently discontinued’.
“There is plenty of evidence that alternative pest control strategies really work. It is now vital that our Government properly supports farmers to gain the knowledge and tools to maximise yields and minimise chemical inputs using Integrated Pest Management”, she added.
The latest position on neonicotinoids from farming minister George Eustice was given on October 26, when he said the Government was keeping developing evidence under ‘active review’.
In May this year, he rejected applications from the NFU and AHDB to allow farmers to use the seed treatments.
At the time, NFU vice president Guy Smith said the rejection was a ‘blow for arable farmers across the country’ and the union would continue to look into making further applications.
The pesticides have been credited with helping to keep cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB) at bay and the ban on their use is said to have contributed to the big recent drops in oilseed rape plantings.
NFU horticulture chief adviser Dr Chris Hartfield said ‘serious heavyweight international experts’ reviewed all the current evidence around neonicotinoids and pollinators at the end of last year and concluded the evidence base on the issue is limited and unclear.
“So when you hear someone telling you the evidence around neonicotinoids and bees is clear, and that it supports a ban on the use of all neonicotinoids, it rings alarm bells”, he added.
“What they are actually saying is the evidence is clear enough for them. That is a very different thing from the evidence being clear for independent and impartial experts, and policymakers.”
The Soil Association found itself in trouble last year when it allowed its growers to use azadirachtin to deal with pests.
The ‘natural’ pesticide, which is extracted from the Indian neem tree, was found to harm bumblebee reproduction and cause deformities, even at concentrations 50 times lower than those used by farmers.
The organisation later admitted permission was ‘given incorrectly’ and promised to retrain its staff.