The Government has today (Tuesday) published its response to a report on pollinators and pesticides by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) that criticised its approach to the neonicotinoid issue. The EAC report, published in April, urged Defra to support the EU ban on three seed treatments that comes into force across the EU later this year.
MPs accused Defra of ‘entangling economic factors with environmental decision making’ in its use of the precautionary principle on the subject. It said this ‘not only contradicts Defra’s stated commitment to the precautionary principle, but risks overlooking the significant economic value of insect pollinators to UK agriculture’.
But in its response Defra maintains that there is insufficient evidence in the field to support the conclusion that neonicotinoids, at levels used on crops, pose a risk to bee populations. The Department, which has carried out its own field trials on the subject, says more research is needed before definitive judgments can be made on the risk.
It says more should be done to understand and tackle the issues facing pollinators, like bees, but stressed that action must be led by science.
The response highlights the important role played by pesticides in supporting the EU’s ability to produce crops – and warns of the potential implications for food production of banning products like neonicotinoids.
The Government stressed, however, that it was bound to follow the suspension imposed by the European Commission. But it rejected calls by the committee to ban neonicotinoid products intended for garden use.
EAC chair Joan Walley said she was ‘disappointed’ the Government has ‘not accepted the great weight of scientific evidence that points to the need for the ban on these pesticides in line with the precautionary principle’.
“The Government acknowledges that it must implement the EU wide moratorium in the UK, but it is still refusing to acknowledge the case for a ban on these products being used in people’s gardens,” she said, adding that suspending the sale of neonicotinoids for home use would create an ‘urban safe haven for bees’.
NFU horticulture adviser Dr Chris Hartfield said the Government’s response was a ‘very balanced and sensible reaction to the EAC’s report’.
“Pollinators are essential for maintaining our biodiversity and pollinating many agricultural and horticultural crops. To ensure they are rightly protected from whatever damaging challenges they face, it is essential that our actions are led by the science,” he said.
But environmental campaigners criticised Defra’s stance. Friends of the Earth Nature Campaigner Sandra Bell, accused the Government of ‘turning a blind eye to the overwhelming scientific evidence on one of the main causes of massive bee-decline in the UK’.
“Instead of defending these pesticides and their manufacturers, Ministers should help farmers reduce their use and develop techniques to maintain yields,” she said.
Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said: “All those who care about the future of bees will share the Environmental Audit Committee’s disappointment that the Government still refuses to accept scientific evidence that neonicotinoid insecticides need to be banned.”
(Source – http://www.farmersguardian.com/home/arable/no-scientific-justification-for-neonicotinoid-ban-defra/58616.article)