Annual Bee Report 2013 – Northern Region
(Covering Greater Manchester, Merseyside and the Wirral,
Lancashire, Cumbria, Tyne and Wear, County Durham,
Northumberland and Cheshire)
Download complete report
from the Independent this week.
More than thirty separate scientific studies in the last
three years have shown adverse effects on insects such
as bees from neonicotinoids, the controversial
nerve-agent pesticides, MPs have been told.
Yet the Department for Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs (Defra) refuses to consider suspending or
banning the substances, MPs on the House of Commons
Environment Audit Committee heard, because it believes
that there is no “unequivocal evidence” that they are
Members of the all-party grouping, who are conducting an
inquiry into “Insects and Insecticides”, expressed
surprise that Defra refuses to countenance the
precautionary principle in dealing with neonicotinoids,
given the mounting weight of evidence that they may be
involved in the sharp declines worldwide of honeybees,
bumblebees and other pollinating insects.
Neonicotinoids, which attack the central nervous system
of insects, were introduced in the 1990s and now make
hundreds of millions of pounds in profit annually for
giant agro-chemical companies such as Bayer and Syngenta.
Earlier this year, four studies strongly implicating the
chemicals in pollinator decline, two from the US, one
from France and one from Britain, led to the then Defra
Chief Scientist, Sir Robert Watson, ordering a review of
Defra’s position on the issue. Yet on the advice of the
Government’s Advisory Committee on Pesticides, the
position remained unchanged.
However, MPs were told that the number of recent
research papers pointing a damaging finger at
neonicotinoids was in fact nearly ten times as high.
Giving evidence to the EAC committee, Matt Shardlow,
director of Buglife, the invertebrate conservation
trust, said that his organisation had been monitoring
neonicotinoid research since it last produced a report
on the chemicals in 2009.
Since then, he said, they had found a total of 39
scientific studies, six of which they considered
unreliable because of their methodology. Of the
remaining 33, 31, or 94 per cent, showed “a much bigger
or more concerning impact of neonicotinoids on insects
than was previously known to be the case,” while two
studies showed either no effect, or less worrying
Mr Shardlow said last night that the list of studies,
which were all peer-reviewed scientific papers, would be
available to the public on the Buglife website tomorrow.
It was also being made available to the committee.
He told the MPs: “We all know science is imperfect and
some science is going to find no effect in a complex
ecosystem analysis, but I think it is really really
worrying that 94 per cent of these studies are showing
bigger impacts than we feared.”
The Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith asked Mr Shardlow, and
Nick Mole, policy officer of the Pesticide Action
Network who was also giving evidence: “Why do you think
Defra has not taken that evidence at the very least to
justify adoption of the precautionary principle? Why are
they resisting that? What is their argument?”
Mr Mole said that the Chemicals Regulation Directorate,
responsible for pesticide safety, was “60 per cent
funded by the work it does on approving pesticides.”
He said: “There is to our mind a clear conflict of
interest – their closeness and the relationship with the
work they do for the agro-chemical industry is very,
very clear. That’s one reason why we think,
precautionary decisions aren’t made. They are too
closely embedded together.”
Mr Shardlow said that if Defra did act on the
precautionary principle, there as “no question about it”
that neonicotinoids would be banned.
Chris Hartfield, adviser on bee health to the National
Farmers’ Union, said that the NFU did not think it was
appropriate for the precautionary principle to be
brought in in this case, with respect to banning the
chemicals. “We do not see there is a compelling weight
of evidence demonstrating that neonicotinoids are
responsible for the widespread decline of pollinator
populations,” he said.
Mr Goldsmith invited the NFU to carry out its own
analysis of the 31 papers suggesting there were
problems, but Mr Hartfield declined.