MP’s Support Ban of Neonics, but BBKA Shows Abject Failure

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee today published the two volume report of its investigation into Pollinators and Pesticides.  The report focussed on the so-called neonicotinoid group of insecticides and the conclusions are clear. The report recommends that that the government department responsible (Defra):

… should prepare to introduce a moratorium in the UK on the use of imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam by 1 January 2014, and support such a proposal in the EU.

The three named chemicals are the most toxic of the 5 neonicotinoid insecticides currently in use by farmers, growers, park keepers and gardeners.

In response to the pesticides industry’s oft-stated mantra that we ‘cannot do without them’, the reports says:

Neonicotinoid pesticides are not fundamental to the general economic or agricultural viability of UK farming, although there may be specific issues in relation to oilseed rape that might require careful management if neonicotinoids were not available to growers.

About another favourite argument of the pro-insecticide lobby, that banning neonics will just lead to the increased use of other insecticides, the report says:

In the interests of the environment, food security, minimising resistance among pests and maximising agricultural incomes, it is desirable that the minimal possible amount of chemical pesticides is used in agricultural production. This means moving away from any excessive use of chemical pesticides and utilising integrated pest management. Such an approach would prevent any ban on neonicotinoids necessarily causing the increased use of potentially more harmful substances.

This is from the BBKA (the British Beekeepers Association) response to the report:

Whilst the BBKA is concerned about the possible damage that these substances may be inflicting on pollinators, it notes that unequivocal field based studies have not been conducted and the evidence is incomplete.

There was an attempt by Fera (the Food and Environment Research Agency) to conduct field studies in 2012 but, as noted in the report, the conclusions were meaningless.   In part this was due to poor experimental practice but also because it turned out that the control colonies were contaminated with high levels of neonics, thus rendering them useless as controls.  Moreover, the neonics in the control colonies were not the one that the test colonies were exposed to!  Such is the ubiquity of these things in the agricultural landscape that it is now pretty much impossible to conduct field trials that compare contaminated conditions with clean ones; there are no clean fields left.  This may be one reason why the report in its opening paragraph states that:

certainty is—as yet, if ever—unachievable.

Yet the BBKA blithely ignores this and asks for unequivocal evidence.

The solution to this impasse is to apply the so-called precautionary principle, something which the report discusses at length and is enshrined in both UN and EU principles.  Yet the BBKA seems not to understand what this principle is.  It says:

clarification is required on what is meant by the precautionary principle and how it is to be applied with regard to pesticides in the UK and Europe.

The HoC report quotes both the UN and the EU versions of the precautionary principle. I will repeat here the 1992 UN Rio Declaration (with my emphasis):

In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

Given the report’s conclusions that economics are not a basis keeping neonics, what is it about ‘lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures’ that the BBKA does not understand?

The BBKA’s strap line of ‘supporting bees and beekeepers’ is shown for exactly what it is; a slogan dreamt up by a publicist with little basis in reality.

For those interested in the full texts they are here: HoC Report Vol 1, HoC Report Vol 2, BBKA Response.

Gareth, Cotswolds

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This entry was posted in BBKA, EFSA, EU, Natural Beekeeping, Pesticides, Precautionary Principle. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to MP’s Support Ban of Neonics, but BBKA Shows Abject Failure

  1. Pingback: MP’s Support Neonic Moratorium | Oxfordshire Natural Beekeeping Group

  2. itsonlyausername says:

    To add another point to this issue. The EU Commission recommendations state that the three neonicotinoids chemicals would be ‘suspended’ for two years.
    Bayer produced some field data from their trials in St Albans and Wellesbourne in the UK way back in the mid 1990’s. It showed clearly that the neonicotinoids were accumulating in the soils. Despite this evidence someone in government decided to either ignore this evidence or didn’t fully understand what the graphs were saying.
    Now to my mind this proves there is a serious problem on two fronts because when something increases in concentration in the soil, something which is also continually being added, there will come a time when despite all the governments rhetoric and the denialism of the BBKA elites, the toxic level required to kill pollinators outright will be reached far sooner than later. But as we now know it is an accumulation effect that is harming pollinators. The other point is that the government is stacked with people who do not understand facts. Or graphs.

    So even if the chemicals are suspended for two years it is highly probable that the pollinator decline will still continue because of the reservoir of neonicotinoids still left in the soil.
    FERA should be looking at these levels in the soil and calculating how long it will take under natural circumstances for these toxic chemicals to decline below the sub lethal threshold for pollinators. It is only then that any meaningful monitoring of the ‘probable’ harmful effects of neonicotinoids on pollinators can commence. Not before.
    But of course they won’t look at that because it costs too much.

    One final little point that I have made elsewhere. If these chemicals are accumulating in the soil then it isn’t only the agricultural crops that will take up these chemicals. The endangered Grey Partridge is known to be killed after ingesting only a handful of treated seeds. Its quite a large bird too. The hedgerow plants and shrubs will absorb it too. Which means all those hawthorn flowers will be carrying minute quantities of this systemic insecticide which will continue to accumulate in the pollinating insects. After all the hedgerows are vegetation and their roots extend quite a way into the fields.
    Now what was it they said about songbird decline? Ah yes the foraging of these birds isn’t restricted to the bird tables of suburbia is it.

    • simplebees says:

      The accumulation study referred to above is covered in detail in the HoC report. It is true that the data originally suggested no long term accumulation and this was taken into account in the original approval of the chemical concerned (imidacloprid). It later turned out that an error had been made in the analysis and that accumulation had in fact occurred over the 6 years of the trial. This new information was included in subsequent regulatory documents but was not highlighted. Bayer now take the view that the trials in question are ‘not representative’ but the HoC report gives figures that suggests they are indeed representative of a lot of field conditions.

      Overall one is left with the impression that the approval process was a cross between Yes Minister and a West End farce: political machinations, dissemblance and incompetence. It would be funny if it were not so serious.

      Gareth, Cotswolds

  3. Joe says:

    The BBKA is saying that the evidence is incomplete? You would expect to hear that from Bayer or Syngenta but not from an organization that should be protecting the honeybees! This is nauseating. All the members with some common sense should withdraw their membership.

  4. jonbinspired says:

    It is unbelievable that BBKA have carefully navigated their way to be on the side of the chemical companies while bees are stressed with poor forage, long winters and varroa. Their isolation was entirely predictable and calls into question the leaders of the BBKA who seem to have lost touch with their own members grass roots opinion. There is surely only one farming method suitable for bees and that is organic. Bayer does not need the marketing budget of the BBKA to make their case for them.

    Defra do not come out well either with poor science, and a report in January written for Syngenta which said nothing, but reduced the results of dozens of highly detailed research paper into one simple cross on a graph. No depth, poor analysis, misleading presentation and dubious selection.

    I have yet to see any paper describing the multi-year effects on queen bees. Defra is playing fast and loose with the environment. For me this has become a major voting issue.

  5. churford says:

    Excuse me for asking the bleeding obvious but how can these products get on to the open market in the first place without the scientific studies to prove their safety to humans, wildlife and environment?

    • Tim Evans says:

      @Churford: “how can these products get on to the open market in the first place without the scientific studies to prove their safety to humans, wildlife and environment?”
      I’m afraid the answer is that few pesticides would ever get onto the marketplace if the companies had to prove their safety. Back in 1985 the BMJ pointed out that here was comprehensive toxicity data for less than 5% of pesticides used in the UK. As for synergistic effects … The licensing system exists to permit the industry to function.

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