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Bees: Govt urged to act on pesticides, as industry meets in London

news release

The UK Government must listen to the overwhelming scientific evidence on the threat neonicotinoid pesticides pose to bees, and support a permanent ban on their use, Friends of the Earth said today.

The call comes as the pesticide industry meets with the Government Chief Scientist at its annual conference in London today to discuss the role of science in policy making.

The EU put restrictions on three neonicotinoid pesticides (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) in May 2013 following a thorough scientific review by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) which found “high acute risk” to honeybees.  EFSA is due to review new evidence on neonicotinoids this year to inform a decision on whether to continue the ban.

Since 2013 numerous scientific studies have been published, including two recent papers published in the prestigious Nature journal, which show clear evidence of negative impacts on bees exposed to the neonicotinoids covered by the ban. One study found increased impacts on wild bees compared to honey bees (see below).

Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that another neonicotinoid – thiacloprid – may also be causing harm to bees and should therefore also be subject to restrictions.

But despite the growing evidence of the negative impact neonicotinoids have on bees, the Crop Protection Association (CPA), which represents pesticide firms, continues to claim there isn’t enough evidence to justify restrictions on these products.

Friends of the Earth Nature Campaigner Sandra Bell said:

“The scientific evidence is now overwhelming.  Neonicotinoid pesticides are harmful to bees and should have no place on our farms or gardens.

“Bees are crucial to us all – stronger action is needed to halt their decline.

“The UK Government must now listen to the science and support a permanent ban on neonicotinoids and extend it to all uses.”


Notes to editors:

1.  The European Commission placed restrictions on three neonicotinoids (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) in May 2013. It followed a thorough scientific review by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

2.  Friends of the Earth is urging the UK Government to support a permanent ban on neonicotinoids – in 2013 the UK voted against the restrictions.  Friends of the Earth is also calling on the European Commission to listen to the science and stand firm on its decision to restrict some neonicotinoid products, and to extend the ban to all crops and all neonicotinoids.

3.  In April 2015 the CPA said: “It is a shame that the debate around the use of these important pesticides appears to be increasingly politicised, with anti-pesticide activists consistently promoting their agenda under the auspices of independent research. Meanwhile, the only effect of the restriction on neonicotinoids in Europe so far has been a steady stream of reports from farmers that their crops are suffering serious losses.”

The CPA also said that two recent studies on neonicotinoids published in Nature must be seen “in the context of ongoing campaign to discredit neonicotinoid pesticides, regardless of what the real evidence shows.”

The CPA described a study by the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council  (which include the UK’s Royal Society) as “a very selective reading of some of the literature, especially from organisations well known for their opposition to neonicotinoids.”

4. A number of new studies published since the EFSA show the risk our bees face from neonicotionoids, including:

•  Worldwide study: In June 2014 the largest global study into the effects and risks of systemic pesticides was published by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides.  It concluded that neonicotinoids “are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees”.
•  Scottish bumblebee study: In February 2015, a study by the Universities of Dundee and St Andrews found further evidence of harm to bumblebees.  Dr Chris Connolly of the University of Dundee said: “Our research demonstrates beyond doubt that the level of neonicotinoids generally accepted as the average level present in the wild causes brain dysfunction and colonies to perform poorly when consumed by bumblebees.”
•  European review of evidence: In April 2015, the highly respected European Academies Science Advisory Council concluded that there is clear scientific evidence for sub-lethal effects on bees and other pollinators exposed to very low levels of neonicotinoids over extended periods.
•  Newcastle University: This study, published in the science journal Nature in April 2015, found that bees preferred to eat solutions containing neonicotinoids, even though the consumption of these pesticides caused them to eat less food overall.  It concluded that treating flowering crops with commonly used neonicotinoids “presents a sizeable hazard to foraging bees”.
•  Swedish Field Trial: This study, also published in Nature in April 2015, found that: The use of neonicotinoid treated seeds in real field conditions “has negative effects on wild bees, with potential negative effects on populations.” The study found that the impact of neonicotinoid treated seed differs between wild bees and honeybees.

More detail on these studies can be found in our briefing Neonicotinoids & bees: Scientific studies increase the case for a permanent ban.

5. Friends of the Earth is urging people to take part in the Great British Bee Count 2015. With the aid of a free app people can record the bees they see throughout May and help provide an annual picture of national bee populations while also raising awareness of bee diversity.

6. The Friends of the Earth is also asking the new Government to commit to implementing and strengthening the National Pollinator Strategy which was published in 2014.

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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