photo of bumblebee and flower

Three quarters of public agree government should support tougher action on bee-harming chemicals

02 Oct 2017
Gove urged to pledge action on neonicotinoid pesticides ahead of conference speech

Over three quarters of the UK public (76%) think the UK government should support EU proposals to extend current restrictions on bee-harming pesticides to all crops, a YouGov survey [1,2] for Friends of the Earth reveals today (Monday 2 October).

Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who will give his speech to the Conservative party conference later today, is coming under increasing pressure to reveal whether or not the UK government will back the European Commission proposal for a ban on the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides on all outdoor crops [3].

Speaking about neonicotinoids following a speech in the summer where he outlined his vision for a Green Brexit [4], Mr Gove said new research had raised “profound concerns” and that he was contemplating the need for further restrictions on their use.

In 2013 three neonicotinoid pesticides were restricted from being used on flowering crops attractive to bees across the EU after it was revealed that they posed a threat to them. However, neonicotinoid treated seeds are still widely used in other crops - such as wheat - and as a result are still entering the soil and water.

Evidence now shows [5] that neonicotinoids used on crops like wheat can end up in wild flowers or flowering crops, thus posing an additional threat to bees - and that is why the European Commission now wants to extend the ban to all crops   The European Commission is due to discuss the issue later this week (Thursday 5 - Friday 6 October), where Member States are expected to indicate whether or not they support the proposal [6].   The YouGov survey for Friends of the Earth revealed that:

• 76% of those polled supported an extension of an EU-wide ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides to all crops - including 79% of those who said they intended to vote Conservative at the next election.

• Only five per cent opposed the proposal, with 18% saying they didn’t know. Fears that yields of oilseed rape would fall without neonicotinoids have proved to be unfounded. Many farmers already grow wheat – one of the main crops that would be covered by the extended ban - without neonicotinoids [7,8,9]. 

Friends of the Earth chief executive Craig Bennett said:   “The UK public are firmly in favour of extending the current ban on bee-harming pesticides to all crops.   “With overwhelming scientific evidence of the threat neonicotinoid chemicals pose to Britain’s bees, Michael Gove must commit the UK to supporting a total ban.   “Farmers up and down the country are already successfully producing crops without neonicotinoids – the government and NFU must do more to help farmers switch to less damaging alternatives.”

Buglife chief executive Matt Shardlow said:

“The evidence is in, the harm to wild bees and pollination is beyond reasonable dispute, and the time for contemplation is over.  Now Michael Gove must decide, does he stand with bees, flowers, crops and farmers, or with the narrow interests of the pesticide companies.”

*** A Friends of the Earth briefing on the need for further restrictions on neonicotinoids is available

ENDS

Notes 1. The YouGov question was: “There is currently an EU-wide ban on the use of three pesticides (known as neonicotinoids) on some crops because of their threat to bees. Proposals have been made to extend the ban of these pesticides to all crops. Do you think the UK government should support or oppose extending the ban on these pesticides?”

2. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,716 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22nd - 24th September 2017.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

3. Representatives of EU member states will meet on 5th and 6th October to discuss the European Commission’s proposal to extend the ban on neonicotinoids to all crops (with the exception of those in greenhouses).  The EC proposal follows new assessments by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published in October 2016 which identified risks from bees being exposed via routes other than direct exposure from the pollen and nectar of flowering crops.  These included exposure via dust drift when seeds are drilled, wildflowers next to arable crops, and flowering crops grown straight after a neonic treated crop in the same soil.

4. Answering questions after his Green Brexit speech - see 53.55 - (21July 2017), Michael Gove said that anyone who's looked at the recent scientific evidence “must inevitably contemplate the need for further restrictions" and that he would be developing a position. 

5. Several scientific studies have pointed to the persistence of neonicotinoids in soil and their potential to turn up in wildflowers.   Neonicotinoidss have been found in wildflower pollen collected in oilseed rape and winter wheat field margins (David et al 2016).  Earlier this year CEH published the results of the biggest field trials to be conducted on the impacts of neonicotinoids on bees, the study found residues of imidacloprid in the bee nests or bee-collected nectar and pollen even though it had not been used in the study indicating that this pesticide has stayed in the soil from a previous use (Woodcock et al, 2017).  And a Canadian study published at the same time that found that pollen from non-target plants (i.e not the treated crop) represented the primary route of exposure (Tsvetkov et al, 2017).

6. A number of conventional farmers are successfully farming without neonicotinoids. Here’s a video featuring two of them.

7. In the first full year of the ban yields were higher than average (2015), although they were lower last year (2016) they were still on par with 2013 yields when neonics were still in use, and the poorer yields in 2016 have been attributed mainly to other factors such as weather with only some isolated cases of CSFB damage, which could well have happened even with neonics still in use.  In 2017 the most recent average yield forecast is 3.4-3.6t/ha – so at or above the 5 year average of 3.4t/ha. Ref AHDB.

8. According to the most recent data available from Defra (2014) only 38% of wheat in UK uses neonic treated seeds.

9. Over 250,000 have so far signed a petition by 38 degrees calling on Michael Gove to end the EU ban on bee-killing pesticides (neonicotinoids) to cover all kinds of crops.