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Ministers must stand up to intense lobbying from the pesticide industry by refusing to allow a banned bee-harming pesticide to be used on Britain’s crops, a coalition of organisations said in a letter to David Cameron today (Tuesday 1 July).
David Cameron and his Cabinet colleagues are expected to decide later today (Tuesday 1 July) whether or not to agree to an ‘emergency’ exemption for one of the banned chemicals, which has been applied for by its manufacturer Syngenta.
The pesticide was one of three neonicotinoids given a two-year EU ban last year after a review of all of the scientific research linked them to damaging bee health, despite opposition from the UK Government.
In the letter, The Bee Coalition, which includes Friends of the Earth, Buglife, the Pesticide Action Network UK, the Soil Association and the Environmental Justice Foundation, said that there is no justification for Syngenta’s request and called on the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) to reject it.
Friends of the Earth Nature Campaigner Paul de Zylva said:
“These chemicals have been banned because there is clear scientific evidence linking them to damaging the health of bees. Ministers should be helping to get farmers off the chemical treadmill so they can protect their crops without relying on bee-harming chemicals. David Cameron now has a clear choice: will he back scientific evidence and the well-being of Britain’s bees – or the interests of the pesticide industry?”
Nick Mole of the Pesticides Action Network UK said:
“The two year ban on the use of neonicotinoids should be an opportunity for innovation to look at new ways of controlling pests without them. This cynical move by Syngenta, supported by the NFU, will undermine the purpose of the ban and rather than support farmers will actually work against them by not allowing the development of new techniques needed to replace the use of bee toxic neonicotinoids.”
Steve Trent of Environmental Justice Foundation said:
"It is imperative that the UK Government reject this request from Syngenta to use a banned pesticide which is known to be harmful to pollinators and will undermine the effective monitoring of the neonicotinoid ban in the UK. We urge David Cameron to follow scientific evidence, the European Union ban and act in favour of Britain's threatened pollinators on Tuesday."
Emma Hockridge of the Soil Association said:
“If the UK Government permits this derogation it will be ignoring the strong and quickly growing body of scientific evidence which points to the damaging impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on pollinating insects, including bumblebees and honey bees. Saving the bee is something the UK public rightly feel very strongly about. There are a range of methods which farmers can use which do not require the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Organic farmers use a system of production which has strong benefits for pollinator populations – a recent meta-analysis from Oxford University showed on average, organic farms have 48% more species of pollinators than non-organic farms.”
Vanessa Amaral-Rogers of Buglife said:
“Oilseed rape is particularly attractive to bees and other pollinators, and was one of the crops which the European Commission considered to be the highest risks to bees. The two year ban was supposed to reduce pressure from our pollinator populations, if this derogation is to take place, the ban is pretty useless.”
Elizabeth Hiester, Senior Lawyer at ClientEarth said
”EU pesticides regulation explicitly aims to ensure a high level of protection for human and animal health and the environment; this should prevail over the interests of crop production. Therefore, any derogation must be exceptional, urgent and temporary and address a danger which cannot be contained by any reasonable means. People want bees to be protected, but until we have full transparency of Syngenta’s request, legal avenues to achieve this are limited.”
Notes to editors:

1. The Bee Coalition letter to David Cameron is available from Friends of the Earth press office.
2. Syngenta, supported by the NFU, has asked to be allowed to use one of its currently banned neonicotinoid pesticides on 186,000 hectares of oil seed rape in the UK. The pesticide firm is seeking a quick decision from Defra to allow it to derogate from current EU restriction on three of the main neonicotinoids used in farming, mainly as treated seeds, before seed is sown in the ground (this must be done by 14 August 2014). The Bee Coalition regards Syngenta’s request as a deliberate and unjustified attempt to undermine the EC’s temporary restriction and calls on DEFRA to reject it.
3. More than 6,000 people have written to Bees Minister Lord de Mauley since Friday 27 June asking him to uphold the ban on pesticides to protect bees.
4. People concerned about the plight of bees are being encouraged to take part in The Great British Bee Count this summer, a citizen science project organised by Friends of the Earth, Buglife and B&Q to help build a nationwide picture of bee health. 20,000 people have so far spotted almost half a million bees since it launched on 10 June 2014 using a free smartphone app downloadable at:
5. EU pesticide restrictions a victory for bees and common sense - Friends of the Earth press release (April 2013):
6. The Bee Coalition formed in 2012 when the UK’s main environmental groups joined forces to call for a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides that are toxic to bees and pollinators. Since 2012, a core group of eight organisations (Buglife, Client Earth, Environmental Justice Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Natural Beekeeping Trust, Pesticide Action Network, RSPB and Soil Association) have been working to bring attention to the plight of bees and pollinators and specifically to engage policymakers, industry and the public about their respective roles in ensuring their protection

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