Bees and Neonicotinoids

Thank you for contacting me about the decision to grant an emergency authorisation for two neonicotinoids to treat oil seed rape crops.

I am firmly supportive of a general move to use fewer pesticides in food production in the UK, but recognise that this has to be balanced against scientific evidence and farming requirements. While the science on neonicotinoids affecting bees is still emerging, we must recognise that a total ban on using them may mean increased use of foliar insecticides later in crop development. Foliar insecticides definitely kill bees.

In this case, the Expert Committee on Pesticides recommended that an emergency application for these treatments should be approved, covering no more than 5 per cent of the national crop and only on seeds to be sown this summer and autumn.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has applied the EU’s precautionary ban on the use of neonicotinoids in full, and makes decisions on pesticides only once the regulators are satisfied they are safe to people and the environment. Based on the evidence, it has followed the advice of the Expert Committee and the Defra Chief Scientist that this limited authorisation should be granted to cover areas where crops are at the greatest risk of damage by pests.

The facility to allow strictly controlled, targeted uses of pesticides under an emergency authorisation is an integral feature of precautionary bans. The Committee had recommended rejecting an earlier application because the proposed use was not targeted closely enough at areas in the greatest need, but concluded that this revised application was sufficiently controlled and limited to warrant approval. The UK’s approach stands in contrast to other EU countries such as Denmark, which has issued unrestricted emergency authorisations for the same use of neonicotinoids.

Bees and other pollinators play a vital role in the security of our food supply and the quality of our natural environment. I welcome the work the Government has done over the last few years to understand and protect them, most recently through the National Pollinator Strategy. It will contribute fully to the European Commission review of the evidence about the impact of neonicotinoids.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.