5 reasons to keep the ban on neonicotinoid pesticides

Dave Timms

01 December 2016

Three years after 3 neonicotinoid pesticides were banned on certain crops in the EU, the ban is under threat. Here are 5 reasons to keep and extend the ban on these bee-harming pesticides.

With the science getting stronger all the time you’d think it was a no-brainer that bee-harming pesticides should stay banned. They should go the way of other banned pesticides such as DDT. But some powerful organisations want them back in our fields.

Ask for a complete ban on bee-harming pesticides

The ban on neonicotinoids - the story so far

Although this is a Europe-wide ban, our government has the power to temporarily lift it. This is what happened in 2015 in parts of England, with farmers allowed to use oilseed rape seeds coated with 2 of the banned neonics.

In 2016 a second attempt was rejected by the government’s expert advisors on pesticides, but expect another application in 2017.

2017 will also see the conclusions of a review of the scientific evidence behind the restrictions, followed by a chance for EU governments to make changes. It’s also a chance for pesticide firms such as Bayer and Syngenta to use their lobbying muscle to try to bring them back.  

In 2013 they had the UK government very firmly on their side opposing the introduction of the ban. But now the official line from Theresa May’s administration is that it is on the fence.

So here are 5 reasons, not just to keep the current restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides, but to make them permanent and extend them to cover all crops.

5 reasons to permanently ban bee-harming pesticides

1) The evidence is clear about neonicotinoid pesticides

Pesticide lobbyists are trying to spread the line that the science is inconclusive on neonics. They claim they want science-based decisions while at the same time undermining the scientific evidence and claiming that scientists are biased.

More evidence is always welcome and we’d love to see more studies funded so we get an ever clearer picture (you can never have enough evidence to satisfy science).

But you can have enough evidence to take decisions and that point has now passed.

These chemicals should go the way of DDT and be permanently discontinued

Dr Penelope Whitehorn, Stirling University

Dr Penelope Whitehorn of Stirling University, who produced one of the key studies that prompted the current restrictions, says: “The scientific evidence now clearly shows that neonicotinoids are causing massive harm to bees and other species that we all depend upon. These chemicals should go the way of DDT and be permanently discontinued.”   

In 2013 the debate was mainly about the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on honeybees, but since then we have learned:

Says Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at Sussex University: “This widespread pollution of the environment with these potent neurotoxins has now been linked not just to bee declines but also to declines in butterflies, aquatic insects, and insect-eating birds.

"With farmland wildlife populations in free fall, it is surely time to extend the moratorium on neonicotinoids to cover other uses."  

2) The public wants a neonicotinoid pesticides ban

Polling has shown that a whopping 81% of the population want to see the current ban on 3 neonicotinoid pesticides continue after Brexit.

MPs report that concern about our bees and the impact of pesticides is consistently at the top of their (electronic) mailbag.

Early Bumblebee.jpg
Early bumblebee, by Tony Putman

3) Local governments are waking up to the problem

The rejection of bee-harming neonictinoid pesticides isn’t just something people are telling their MPs they want to see.

Councils are passing motions banning their use on local authority land. West Sussex, Devon, Dorset County Councils have passed bans. Cornwall Council became the latest.

4) Massive support from wildlife organisations

Leading wildlife and environment groups are now convinced that the current restrictions must be made permanent and extended to cover all crops (at the moment they can still be used on some major crops such as wheat).

They aren’t just worried about the impact on bees, but birds, bats and butterflies too.

In an open letter to the UK government on 1 December 2017, the third anniversary of the EU ban on bee-harming pesticides, the organisations say “it is clear that there is now more than enough evidence to retain the ban and extend it to all crops, and that this is essential to reverse the decline of bees and other pollinators".

In the letter, the organisations - which include Friends of the Earth, RSPB, Greenpeace, The Wildlife Trusts, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation and Bat Conservation Trust - say:

“Since 2013 many more independent laboratory and field studies have found neonics impairing the ability of different bee species to feed, navigate and reproduce resulting in declining populations.

“The government says it will not hesitate to act on evidence of harm. The third anniversary of the neonics restrictions is Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom’s chance to catch up with scientific evidence and public opinion by keeping and extending the ban as part of properly protecting Britain’s bees and pollinating insects.”

5) We can find ways to farm without neonics

Some farmers - such as Peter Lundgren in Lincolnshhire - are now turning their backs on neonicotinoids and finding non-chemical ways to combat pests. 

We don’t claim that farming without neonicotinoid pesticides is a simple transition, but it can (and must) be done.

Innovative farmers need support and there must be more research funding to perfect the methods.

Main picture: Bumblebees could be even more vulnerable to neonicotinoid pesticides than honeybees

bumblebee flying near lupin 626.jpg