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Government urged to back complete ban after major European study finds neonicotinoid pesticides harm bees

news release

The results of a long-awaited, large-scale European field trial, published today, has found that neonicotinoid pesticides harm honeybees and wild bees.

The results of the study, conducted by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and published in the journal Science, are considered to be crucially important because this is the biggest study of the impacts of these pesticides in a real world environment, covering a crop area equivalent to 3,000 football pitches.

Friends of the Earth is urging the UK government to back moves in the EU to permanently extend current neonicotinoid restrictions to all crops – and commit to keeping any ban post-Brexit. A Friends of the Earth YouGov poll last year found that 81% want to keep an EU ban on neonicotinoid pesticides that have been found to pose a threat to bees, post-Brexit [2].

Commenting on the results of the field trials, Friends of the Earth nature campaigner Sandra Bell said:

“This crucial study confirms that neonicotinoid pesticides come with a nasty sting in the tail for our under-pressure bees – it’s time for a complete and permanent ban on these chemicals.

“These key results, showing harm to honeybees and wild bees in real farm conditions, follow numerous studies demonstrating that neonicotinoid pesticides pose a threat to Britain’s bees.

“The UK government must stop asking for yet more evidence and back tough action on these dangerous chemicals to protect our precious pollinators.

“We can successfully grow crops without neonicotinoids, and without resorting to more pesticides.  The UK government must now do more to help farmers grow the crops we need without harming Britain’s bees.”

The study also reinforces concerns that bees are being exposed to neonicotinoids not just by directly foraging on the treated crop.  Because these chemicals persist in the environment they can turn up in wildflowers, or in crops planted after or next to the treated crop.

Responding to suggestions that planting more wildflowers will help mitigate the impacts of neonicotinoids, Sandra Bell added:

“Habitat loss is a major factor in bee-decline, so planting more wildflowers on farmland is something we strongly support. But habitat-creation should happen as well as a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, not instead of one – especially as we now know these chemicals remain in the environment and have found their way into wildflowers next to crops ”.

Farmers across the UK are successfully growing crops without using neonicotinoids. Friends of the Earth has produced the ‘Bee-friendly shoppers’ guide to rapeseed oil’ detailing farmers who have pledged not to use restricted neonicotinoid pesticides on rape seed oil crops – even if the current ban were to be lifted:


Notes to editors:

1. 81% want to keep an EU ban on neonicotinoid pesticides that have been found to pose a threat to bees, post-Brexit | Friends of the Earth press release (August 2016).

2. Wild bees are more important to crop pollination than honey bees, so their protection is crucial to crop yield and quality and our future food security.

3. Three neonicotinoids (including Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam) were restricted for use in the EU in 2013 on flowering crops attractive to honeybees. The European Commission is now proposing to extend the restrictions to most other crops.   Because of the way they persist in the soil, travel through soil and water, and are spread by dust at the time of sowing, neonicotinoids can end up in wildflowers next to treated crops or flowering crops grown next to or subsequent to the treated crop.  So they can pose a risk to bees even if they are not visiting a directly treated crop.   Neonicotinoids are still widely used in the UK, for example Clothianidin, one of the pesticides in the CEH field trials, was used on over 700,000 hectares of wheat in the UK in 2014.

4. Since 2013 evidence has mounted of the harm that neonicotinoids pose to bees. Recently the UK’s Expert Committee on Pesticides, commenting on the EC’s proposal to extend the ban, noted that “Member’s initial view was that there did not appear to be scientific justification for the proposed approach, but that the building suite of evidence suggests that the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments may pose a greater hazard to pollinators than originally thought”:

6. Warnings of widespread crop damage without neonics have been unfounded.  The average UK oilseed rape yield actually increased by 6.9% in 2015 (the first year without access to neonic seed treatments). There was a poorer OSR yield in 2016 due to a range of reasons including weather.  Even the relatively low yields in 2016 (3.0-3.2t/ha) are similar to yields in 2013 (3t/ha) before the restrictions on neonicotinoids came into effect.

7. Farmers have found ways to successfully grow oilseed rape without neonicotinoids.

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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