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New studies highlight pesticide threat to wild bees

news release

Reacting to two new studies, published today in the scientific journal Nature, which provide further evidence that neonicotinoid insecticides pose a substantial risk to wild bee species, Friends of the Earth nature campaigner Sandra Bell said:  “The scientific evidence that neonicotinoid insecticides harm our under-threat bees keeps stacking up.

“These dangerous chemicals should have no place on our farms and gardens. Bees are essential to us – it is vital that action is taken to reduce all the threats they face.

“The next UK Government faces a key green test. It must support a complete and permanent European ban on these bee harming chemicals, and help UK farmers find safer alternatives.”


Notes to editors:

1.    Two new significant studies into the harm faced by bees from exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides (covering imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin) have been published in the science journal, Nature (22 April 2015). A briefing on the findings is available from Friends of the Earth campaigner Paul de Zylva.

2.    The studies are important because they involve realistic field tests and both wild bees and managed honey bees. Their findings challenge claims by the pesticides industry, certain farming interests and the UK Government that evidence is lacking as to the risk to bees from neonicotinoids and that use of these systemic pesticides is safe.

3.    The study by Newcastle University (Wright et al), concludes that bees preferred to eat solutions containing neonicotinoids, even though the consumption of these pesticides caused them to eat less food overall.  The study undermines claims that harm from pesticides can be avoided or reduced by planting other sources of nectar and pollen nearby and concludes that this “might not be enough to decrease the risk of poisoning pollinators with pesticides”. Instead, the study concludes that treating flowering crops with commonly used neonicotinoids “presents a sizeable hazard to foraging bees”, and recommends that reducing pesticide use “may be the only certain” way to halt bee and pollinator decline.

4.    The Swedish field trial study (Rundlof et al) is significant because the trial examines how the use of neonicotinoids in real field conditions on the widely grown crop, oil seed rape, affects both wild solitary bees and bumblebees and managed honey bees. Such field trials rarely examine the effect on two types of wild bee. The study found that use of the neonicotinoid seed coating reduced the density of wild bumble and solitary bees in the flowering oilseed rape fields and adjacent uncultivated field borders. Wild solitary bees failed to nest in areas next to treated fields and the growth and formation of colonies of wild bumblebees were also affected by the use of neonicotinoids. The study concludes that use of neonicotinoid treated seeds in real field conditions “has negative effects on wild bees, with potential negative effects on populations”.

5.    There is currently a temporary and partial EU wide ban in place on three neonicotinoid insecticides (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) because these were found to pose a “high acute risk” to honey bees by scientists at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). This restriction could be extended following a review of new evidence this year. Last month (March 2015) Friends of the Earth wrote to EU Commissioner Andriukaitis asking him to make the ban permanent and to extend it to cover all crops and all neonicotinoids.

6.    The studies published in Nature today follow a report earlier this month by the independent European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) which concluded that current use of neonicotinoids has negative effects on a range of organisms that provide ecosystem services like pollination and natural pest control, as well as on biodiversity.

7.    The Government’s own research on neonicotinoids was recently criticised. It used one field trial to claim that there is no clear relationship between colony performance and pesticide exposure, and to support its decision to vote against the EU temporary ban. Re-analysis by independent pollinator scientist, Professor Dave Goulson, revealed that the data, in fact, shows substantial negative impacts of neonicotinoids on bumblebees.

For press information please contact the Friends of the Earth media team on 020 7566 1649.

Published by Friends of the Earth Trust

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