Environmental Laboratory

DEFRA Lifts Ban on Controversial Bee-Killing Pesticides

Aug 14 2015 Read 1072 Times

The governmental Department for Environmental, Rural and Farming Affairs (DEFRA) has announced that it will be temporarily lifting the moratorium on neonicotinoids in certain parts of the country from December this year.

The ban was placed on the pesticides by the EU after an increasing body of evidence showed its harmful effects on the ever-declining bee population of the UK. British bees have been in freefall over the last few years due to many factors, including climate change, loss of habitat and spread of disease – but mainly due to the use of such pesticides.

Temporary Exemption for 5% of Rapeseed Oil Crops

However, the National Farmers Union (NFU) lodged a second emergency application to lift the ban, claiming that pests such as the cabbage stem flea beetle have been wreaking havoc on their rapeseed oil crops. As a result, the government has slackened the law to allow around 5% (the equivalent of 30,000 hectares) of England’s crops to use neonicotinoids for up to 120 days of the year.

However, the government has not yet decided which areas of the country will benefit from the lax laws, though Farming Minister George Eustace said that it was most likely to be "predominantly farmers in Suffolk".

Though the NFU has welcomed the decision, they fear it might be too little too late, with farmers facing an unrealistic timescale in which to locate and spray all affected crops. On the other side of the coin, many environmentalists were up in arms about the decision.

“Scandalous” and “Completely Unacceptable”

Opponents of the ruling have complained that it flies in the face of an increasing number of studies – some of which even show that neonicotinoids have proven to be harmful in the wild. Paul de Zylva, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth, lambasted the government both for its “scandalous” decision and for the lack of transparency in making it.

“It is completely unacceptable for the government to refuse to make the NFU's decision publicly available - and even asked its own independent advisors not to publish the minutes and agenda of key meetings,” he said.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson of the NFU, Dr Hartfield, has called into question the reliability of studies which have largely involved dosing bees. He claims that the testing cannot confidently and accurately predict what happens to bees in the wild when they come into contact with neonicotinoids.

A Two-Thirds Fall in Queen Bees

However, this suggestion was rebuffed by a University of Cambridge research fellow for biodiversity and ecosystems services, Dr Lynn Dicks. “The Bayer ingredient allowed under this derogation - clothianidin - is the one tested in the recent study,” explained Dr Dicks, referring to the study mentioned above. “It showed that bumblebees in landscapes with treated oilseed rape produced only a third as many queens as those in landscapes treated with other insecticide sprays, but not neonicotinoid.”

On this evidence, queen bee populations in the areas treated by neonicotinoids come December could fall by as much as 66%.

As well as safeguarding our bee population, the removal of these pesticides is desirous for our own health, as well. Contaminants which remain in crops after processing can find their way onto supermarket shelves and into our digestive tracts, causing no end of problems. The article One Step Extraction, Cleanup and Concentration of Pesticides from Soil talks about one of the most advanced methods of preventing this scenario from coming to pass.

Image Source: Chris Sorge

 

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