The latest blast in the long running saga regarding the seed treatments and their alleged ill affects on bee health has come from an Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report.
It claims Defra should introduce a ‘precautionary moratorium’ on three pesticides linked to the decline of pollinators - imidacloprid, clothianidin and TMX. This would suspend their use on flowering crops attractive to pollinators, the cross-party green watchdog has said.
This comes just days after Defra’s own research into the pesticides claimed previous research had used ‘unrealistically high’ doses of the chemicals and was therefore not linked to the reality faced by pollinators.
Prior to this, Tonio Borg, EU health commissioner, had called for a ban on neonicotinoids because of their impact on bee health, but this failed to get the required majority in an EU vote last month.
Chairman of the EAC, Joan Walley, said: “Defra seems to be taking an extraordinarily complacent approach to protecting bees given the vital free service that pollinators provide to our economy.
“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.
“Defra Ministers have refused to back EU efforts to protect pollinators and can’t even come up with a convincing plan to encourage bee-friendly farming in the UK.
“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 1 January next year.”
But Defra said decisions on neonicotinoids ‘must be based on sound scientific evidence’.
It added: “That’s why we want the European Commission to agree to our suggestion for a major new field study to get the best, most up-to-date evidence. That will allow informed decision-making, rather than rushing into a knee-jerk ban based on inconclusive studies.”
The EAC’s findings were backed by a number of organisations opposing the use of these pesticides.
The Soil Association described the report as ‘another nail in the coffin of the Government’s position not to support the ban on neonicotinoid pesticides’.
Georgina Down, of the UK Pesticides Campaign, added: “It is clear that the very serious and inherent problems that result from using pesticides will definitely not be solved by merely tinkering with the existing system. There needs to be a complete policy shift away from the dependence on pesticides altogether by utilising sustainable non-chemical farming methods.”
However, chemical company Syngenta slammed the latest findings.
It said: “The easy option is to call for a ban on neonicotinoids in the hope that it will improve bee health. The long-term, real world, scientific reality is that a ban wouldn’t save a single hive, but it would create significant environmental, agronomic and economic challenges.”
Bayer CropScience said it was disappointed with the findings and said the real problem with bee health are ‘habitat loss, viruses and parasites’, something it claims the EAC ‘has ignored’.