Defra has denied it has changed its position on neonicotinoids after two Ministers showed their support for the EU ban on flowering crops.
On July 20, in response to a parliamentary question on whether Britain would lift the restrictions after Brexit, Lord Gardiner, Minister for Rural Affairs, said: “The Government keeps the developing evidence on neonicotinoids under review, advised by the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides.
“On the basis of current evidence, we support the existing restrictions.”
Farming Minister George Eustice gave a similar answer to another question two weeks earlier.
Lord Gardiner’s previous statements on the subject made no mention of supporting the restrictions.
In February 2017, he said: “While the UK remains a member of the EU, we will continue to meet our obligations under EU law. This includes restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids.”
Despite what appeared to be newly-shown support for the ban, Defra has strongly denied the Government position has changed.
A spokesperson for the department said: “The Government has fully applied restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids introduced by the EU to date.
“We make all decisions on pesticides based on the science and they are only approved once regulators are satisfied they meet safety standards for people and the environment.”
Dr Chris Hartfield, acting chief science and regulatory affairs adviser at the NFU, said the union would continue to make the case for policy decisions to be based on sound science.
No clear evidence
“There is no clear evidence neonicotinoids are causing widespread declines in bee populations”, he added.
Lord Gardiner’s comments came as Friends of the Earth urged the Government to back a neonicotinoid ban on all crops after new research from Royal Holloway University claimed the pesticides ‘increased the probability of bumblebee population extinction’.
The researchers exposed queens to thiamethoxam, produced by Syngenta.
The results showed queen bees exposed to neonicotinoids were 26 per cent less likely to be able to start a new colony, though there was no impact on the ability of queens to produce adult offspring.
Dr Hartfield and Peter Campbell, senior environmental specialist at Syngenta, raised concerns about how reflective the study was of real conditions in the field.
Dr Hartfield said: “This interesting new research is another example of bees being artificially dosed with neonicotinoids, at concentrations towards the high end of what is typically observed in the field. Being fed only dosed food in this way is an unnatural situation.”