Condemnation After UK Lifts Ban on Bee-Killing Neonics

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Condemnation After UK Lifts Ban on Bee-Killing Neonics

Temporary reversal on pesticide will allow farmers to access harmful chemicals for 120 days

Oilseed rape fields are sprayed with neonicotinoids. (Photo: Chafer Machinery/flickr/cc)

The UK government this week temporarily lifted a ban on controversial pesticides linked to widespread harm to bees and other insects—a move which one environmental group said "shows a blatant disregard for our wildlife."

The ban was lifted under an "emergency" measure in response to an application by the National Farmers' Union (NFU). Under the statute, farmers cultivating around 300 square kilometers of oilseed rape will have access for 120 days to two neonicotinoid pesticides, or neonics, from agrochemical giants Bayer and Syngenta.

According to the NFU, the 300 square kilometers amounts to roughly 5 percent of the UK's total oilseed rape crop. The industry association says it needs access to the pesticides to protect against cabbage stem flea beetles.

But the chemicals in question have been linked to declines in populations of pollinators like honeybees and bumblebees, as well as insects like ladybirds, which help keep crop pest numbers down.

"Although the Government has only allowed these chemicals to be used on 5% of land grown for oilseed rape, it shows a blatant disregard for our wildlife and the rules that we have in place to protect the environment," said Paul Hetherington, fundraising and communications director for the UK-based environmental nonprofit Buglife.

Friends of the Earth bees campaigner Paul de Zylva added, "It's scandalous that the Government has caved in to NFU pressure and given permission for some farmers to use banned pesticides that have been shown to harm our precious bees.

"Ever more scientific evidence shows just how dangerous these chemicals are to bees and other pollinators—they should have no place in our fields and gardens," de Zylva said.

The government also shrouded its decision in secrecy, another move denounced by green groups.

The Guardian reports:

Ministers have not made public the information provided by the NFU, citing commercial confidentiality.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) also told its expert committee on pesticides (ECP) to halt its normal practice of publishing the minutes of meetings at which the neonicotinoid applications were discussed, in order to avoid “provoking representations from different interest groups”.

But the department's attempt to gag its own expert advisers did not go unnoticed by those so-called "interest groups."

"It's scandalous that the Government has caved in to NFU pressure and given permission for some farmers to use banned pesticides."
—Paul de Zylva, Friends of the Earth

"The last time the Conservatives stood for office, they said they were going to be the greenest Government ever. The outcome of this decision and the secrecy surrounding the process indicates otherwise," Buglife's Hetherington said.

A study published earlier this year in Nature found that wild bee populations were cut in half around fields where neonics were used to treat crops. On Thursday, Nature noted the connection and reported:

Lynn Dicks, a pollinator researcher at the University of Cambridge, UK, says that in light of Rundlöf and colleague’s work, “I find this [DEFRA] decision extraordinary”.

Based on that research, she says, “areas with 5% of the UK’s rape crop might expect to lose two-thirds of their wild bumblebee queens going into the winter of 2016/17 because of this decision”.

The European Union banned neonics in 2013 over the concerns that they hurt pollinators, but the ban will be up for review in December.

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