Nick von Westenholz warned a fringe meeting organised by CPA at the Labour Party Conference that the ban is already threatening to have a negative impact on 2015 crop yields, with unintended consequences for pollinators.
“We are seeing farmers struggling very seriously to establish OSR crop. For the first time this autumn OSR crops are being planting without neonicotinoid seed treatments.
“They are being decimated by flea beetle and farmers are having to use other chemistry to control it, which they are struggling with as there is growing resistance to it in flea beetle,” he said.
“There is an unintended consequence, which is that pollinators find OSR effective as a forage crop and there will be less OSR next spring.”
The current suspension of neonicotinoid seed treatments in flowering crops will come under review before a decision of the future of the products is made. Mr von Westenholz said it was vital to gather evidence of the impact on OSR production and planted area. The NFU is currently asking its members to inform it of any problems they are having but Mr von Westenholz said more needs to be done by Defra.
“There are definitely concerns that Government is not in a particularly advanced stage of evidence gathering,” he said.
Cheshire farmer Richard Reeves, who also sat on the panel, said: “A lot of big arable growers in the east of England are questioning if OSR is going to be viable in future so the bees at a stroke could lose one of their main sources of food.”
Shadow Farming Minister Huw Irranca-Davies agreed there was a need for the Government to sit down with all sides in the debate to look at the issue in its entirety.
“We didn’t come down with a hard line on neonicotinoids. We said look at the evidence in front of us. If we don’t use neonicotinoids what is going to be to be the impact of more frequent use of older pesticides,” he said.
“Subsequently to that other studies have come out and some of them are very significantly supporting the decision that a moratorium to assess the evidence is right. But we never have perfect evidence in science.”
Mr von Westonholz denied that the evidence on the impact of neonicotinoids on pollinator health was hardening.
He questioned the rigour of one of the studies Mr Irranca-Davies was referring to and said it had been descriebd as ‘science by press release’.
He pointed to another study by Professor Charles Godfray, from Oxford University, which he said concluded there was not yet sufficient evidence to ban neonicotinoids. He added that pesticides are often blamed for declines in pollinator population declines when, in reality, there are a whole range of factors, include climate and bee disease.
Vicki Hird, a senior campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said it was vital this sort of decision wasn underpinned by a strong evidence base.
“When it comes to considering risk we have to be extremely careful. We have to be cautious about the impact (of pesticides) on bees and the wider environment,” she said.
“We need to look at farming in a different way. That might be about diversifying production rather than going down the large scale monocrop production system.”