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Government considers neonicotinoid derogation request

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The Government is considering a request for a UK derogation from the EU-wide ban on neonicotinoid seed treatment, which would enable farmers to plant 186,000ha of treated oilseed rape this autumn.
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Defra’s pesticide advisers have advised that the criteria for the derogation have been met and Defra Secretary Owen Paterson is understood to be in favour. However, it is understood he face a battle to get the exemption signed off by Downing Street.

 

According to NFU president Meurig Raymond, the issue was potentially due to be discussed by the Cabinet on Tuesday morning.

 

However, Mr Raymond said the prospects of Government approval ahead of the meeting were not thought to be good, given the wider concerns over the use of the seed treatments, highlighted across the national media today.

 

The request to Defra was submitted by Syngenta for emergency use approval to enable UK farmers to sow 186,000ha of Cruiser OSR product this autumn. This would represent under 30 per cent of the historic planting area for treated seed on the UK’s OSR crop.

 

Syngenta has specifically requested the approval for:

 

  • Protecting early sown crops (before August 14) from aphid damage during the establishment phase.
  • For use in areas where flea beetle pressure is historically significant due to resistance and lack of available alternatives for treatment.

 

If the application is approved, growers will be required to have a BASIS qualified agronomist assess need before they are able to secure supply of treated seed. All seed would be secured under a contract for use with a clear identification of the volume and location of plantings.

 

The request was discussed by the Department’s Advisory Committee on Pesticides in May. The committee confirmed that the criteria for an emergency authorisation specified in the relevant Regulation were met.

 

The application has also been assessed by the Chemical Regulation Directorate (CRD).

 

A Defra spokesperson said: “We can confrm we received an application for the emergency authorisation of a neonicotinoid in accordance with EU rules. As this is still under consideration it would not be appropriate to comment further.”

Bee health concerns

The suspension of neonicotinoids in flowering crops, driven by concerns over the products impact on bee health, came into effect in December 2013 but will begin to take effect from this autumn’s planting season, prompting fears of a big drop in OSR yields across the EU.

 

A Syngenta spokesman said: “Despite regulatory criteria being met the government is still yet to approve the authorisation.”

 

Commenting on ‘ongoing claims against neonicotinoid technology’, he said much recent research that indicates that the ‘balance of evidence (and field research in particular) continues to conclude that neonicotinoids are safe for use in the environment’.

 

He highlighted research led by Professor Charles Godfray from Oxford University, chair of the government’s Pollinator Expert Advisory Group, which he said ‘showed that there is no “smoking gun” linking neonicotinoids to a decline in bee health’.

 

NFU combinable crops chairman Mike Hambly said concerns over the impact on OSR yields were being felt across Europe. Addressing the NFU council on He cited a recent warning from EU farming body Copa-Cogeca that ‘2014 could be the last big harvest we have in Europe’ as a result of the ban.

 

He also cited the experience of Sweden, which he said had suffered a 70 per cent drop in OSR yields after withdrawing neonicotinoid products (see below).

 

But the case for those fighting to ban neonicotinoids has been strengthened by a damning report claiming ‘they are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees’.

 

The report by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, a group of scientists from around the world, was based on analysis of 500 peer-reviewed studies on the chemicals. It found ‘clear evidence of harm sufficient to trigger regulatory action’.

 

Helen Browning, director of the Soil Association, said: “This overwhelming scientific evidence of the dangers of neonicotinoids follows a pattern.

 

“Classes of pesticides, previously claimed to be safe, are being found to be dangerous and subsequently banned.”

 

  • Even if the UK grants the emergency authorisation the European Commission could then propose to amend or withdraw the authorisation, a proposal that would then be voted on by member states.

 

Sweden clarification

NFU vice president Guy Smith has clarified comments he and NFU combinable crops chairman Mike Hambly made about the loss of neonicotinoids on OSR crops in Sweden, after the statement was challenged by environmental organisations.

 

Mr Smith said: “It is not the case 70 per cent of the spring crop was destroyed by flea beetle. Spring OSR area is down 70 per cent this year because farmers thought they would not have Cruiser so they took the risk to increase their autumn acreage.”

Beekeepers perspective

The British Beekeepers Association’s latest bee survey suggest an improving situation, with honey bee colony losses estimated at one in ten in 2013/14 compared more than one in three over the bad winter of 2012/13.

 

The association stated: “Interestingly this survey was made during the period in which honey bees were still exposed to crops which had been treated with neonicotinoid crop protection products prior to the imposition of the moratorium on their use.

 

“Whilst still wishing to see further research on the actual effect of neonicotinoids on honey bees in the field the association also has concerns about the wider use of crop sprays that the ban on neonicotinoids will oblige farmers to employ.”

 

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