The NFU has hit back at reports that commonly-used fungicides are contributing towards a decline in bumblebee populations.
The union was responding to a new study, carried out across 284 sites in 40 US states, which looked at more than 20 different factors associated with bee health.
The results highlighted a potential link between fungicide usage, bumblebee losses and bees foraging over smaller areas.
Bee colonies with higher rates of the nosema parasite, which reduces the reproductive performance of males and gynes and lowers the survival rate of workers, were also found in areas where fungicides were present.
Chlorothalonil, a broad spectrum fungicide used to treat rust, purple spot and leaf blight, among other diseases, was most strongly linked to increased prevalence of nosema.
The findings have sparked concerns fungicides could make bees more susceptible to the parasite by killing beneficial gut microbes.
But Dr Chris Hartfield, acting chief science and regulatory affairs adviser at the NFU, told Farmers Guardian more research at colony and field level was needed before any firm conclusions could be drawn about the effect of fungicides on bee populations.
“The research cautions against over-interpreting its results – making clear they do not show causes, but just suggest links warranting further research”, he said.
“Importantly, while it looked for it, the study failed to find any significant link between bee declines and neonicotinoid use.
“Farmers are acutely aware that bees play a crucial role in food production.
“They rely on bees to pollinate crops and have planted around 10,000 football pitches of flower habitat across the country to support a healthy bee population and give them a good home – all because they recognise the key role they play in producing safe, affordable food.”
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