Bees: Govt must get tougher on pesticides, say MPs
A new report published today (Monday 28 July 2014) by a committee of MPs criticising the lack of effective Government action to protect UK bees from harmful insecticides, and the reliance on pesticide safety tests carried out by chemical firms, has been welcomed by Friends of the Earth.
In its report into the Government’s National Pollinator Strategy (NPS), due in October, MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee call on the Government to support the recent EU-wide ban on bee-harming neonicotinoid chemicals, and not to try and overturn it when the European Commission conducts a review next year.
MPs agreed with Friends of the Earth’s evidence to their inquiry that the UK needs a strong action plan to reverse bee decline and that the draft NPS, published earlier this year, is still too weak on tackling pesticide use and the role of farming. MPs say the Government has missed the opportunity to reform farming to make it more bee and wildlife friendly.
Public concern about the plight of our bees is extremely high. Tens of thousands of people have taken part in the Great British Bee Count, a national bee survey organised by Friends of the Earth, Buglife and B&Q, since it launched in June, with over two thirds of a million bees already recorded.
Welcoming the report, Friends of the Earth nature campaigner Sandra Bell, who gave evidence to the MPs’ inquiry, said:
“If the Government’s action plan to protect Britain’s pollinators is to have any credibility it must back the ban on bee-harming insecticides and set out a clear strategy to reduce pesticide use.
“Tough measures are also needed to halt the continued loss of our precious wildflower meadows and to help all farmers play a full role in reversing bee decline.
"Thousands of people across the UK are already taking action to help our crucial bee populations - the Government must act too."
Notes to editors:
1. The Great British Bee Count runs until 31 August – log sightings of bees in seconds using a free app, downloadable here: http://greatbritishbeecount.co.uk/
2. A recent YouGov survey puts bee decline top of people’s UK environmental concerns (85%). http://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/06/27/bees-dying-most-serious-environmental-issue/
3. The report on the Government’s draft National Pollinator Strategy is published by the Environmental Audit committee: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/
4. The MPs’ report contains lots of welcome recommendations and observations, including:
On new evidence of harm to bees from pesticides MPs said: “New studies have added weight to those that indicated a harmful link between pesticide use and pollinator populations.” (paragraph 6, page 7).
MPs call on the Government to “make it clear that the UK accepts the European risk assessment underpinning the ban, that it supports the ban and will not seek to end it when the European review is possible in 2015, or otherwise, circumvent it” (paragraph 39, page 22)
MPs criticised the Government’s weak use of the precautionary principle (paragraph 7, page 8) and noted the Government’s failure to show any economic downsides to the present European restriction on some neonicotinoid chemicals (paragraph 11, page 9).
MPs say that if the Government insists on relying on pesticide company-funded testing, that it must ensure that “the design of the studies and how they are undertaken and reported is independent of its paymasters, and is transparent” (paragraph 23, page 15).
MPs also call on the Government to ‘clearly demonstrate’ that neonicotinoids are needed to maintain crop yields, which was strongly questioned by top bee scientist, Professor Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex (paragraph 10, page 8).
On the reform of farming and the large public subsidies farmers receive, MPs say the “Government must review (these) to ensure that pollinator protection is a priority driver rather than an optional rationale” (paragraph 31, page 18).
MPs point to the importance of ‘ensuring agriculture plays a full part in protecting pollinators’ and that the Government must “justify its logic of the predominately voluntary approach” given to farming in the draft National Pollinator Strategy (paragraph 38, page 21).
MPs say “the success of the National Pollinator Strategy is therefore vitally important” (paragraph 5, page 6) and that “the final Strategy provide a coherent narrative of how all relevant Government policies will contribute to pollinator protection” not just those decided by the environment department Defra (paragraph 38, page 21)