UK: NFU warns of ‘catastrophic’ impact if pesticide ban intended to protect bees goes ahead

A ban on pesticides feared to be killing bees is on the cards after a majority of EU governments bac

A ban on pesticides feared to be killing bees is on the cards after a majority of EU governments backed a move fiercely resisted by the UK coalition - Credit: PA

THE National Farmers’ Union (NFU) today warned of a “catastrophic” impact on food production after a majority of European Union governments backed a proposed ban on pesticides feared to killing bees.

The UK government has come under fire for repeatedly opposing a ban on “neonicotinoids” used on crops such as oil seed rape, which are attractive to bees.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has urged delays in deciding until more studies are completed into the effects on bees.

But today EU deputy ambassadors voted by a majority to accept the available evidence, which many say confirms the danger to bees.

After the vote in Brussels, Greenpeace urged the European Commission to act swiftly to introduce the ban for at least two years on three pesticides the organisation says have been shown scientifically to be harmful to bees.

But Dr Chris Hartfield, NFU lead on bee health, said: “The commission’s decision to ban three widely used neonicotinoids is likely to have catastrophic impacts for food production and unintended consequences for the environment, without delivering any measurable benefits for bee health.

“It is right that we take steps to protect bees – they are vital pollinators – but any action needs to be proportionate to the problem. Crucially, we have to be confident that when we make changes, these changes will actually deliver benefits.

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“At the moment, there is no evidence to show that there are any harmful effects of neonicotinoids on bees under field conditions. If we cannot find evidence of harm in the field, then it follows that we will not be able to measure any benefits of a ban either.

“This issue is about science and evidence, and finding a balanced way to tackle the significant challenges to bee health. However, it looks like we are about to make populist changes that do nothing to measurably improve the situation for bees, but will make it harder and more costly for farmers and growers to control pests on a whole range of agricultural and horticultural crops.”

However, Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said: “Today’s vote makes it crystal clear that there is overwhelming scientific, political and public support for a ban.

“Those countries opposing a ban have failed. Now, the Commission must draw the only conclusion possible and immediately halt the use of these pesticides as a first step to protect European food production and ecosystem.”

Friends of the Earth said the vote was a “significant victory for bees and common sense” - and urged the UK Government to introduce a “bee action plan”.

FoE head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton said: “This decision is a significant victory for common sense and our beleaguered bee populations. Restricting the use of these pesticides could be an historic milestone on the road to recovery for these crucial pollinators.

“But pesticides are just one of the threats bees face. If David Cameron is genuinely concerned about declining bee numbers he must urgently introduce a bee action plan.”

On the UK’s lack of support for a ban, Mr Pendleton added: “The UK Government’s refusal to back restrictions on these chemicals, despite growing scientific concern about their impact, is yet another blow to its environmental credibility.

“Ministers must now help farmers to grow and protect crops, but without relying so heavily on chemicals - especially those linked to bee decline.”

FoE says it has played a major role in persuading home and garden retailers to act on neonicotinoid insecticides, with firms including B&Q, Homebase, Wyevale and Dobbies removing such products from their shelves.

The European Commission said it would go ahead with the ban “in the coming weeks”. Although a majority of the 27 EU countries supported the move, the decision still fell short of the “qualified majority” of member states required to make the ban automatic.

Instead the commission is seizing on its right, after two votes of EU member states failed to clear the hurdle, to make the final decision.

EU Health and Consumer Commissioner Tonio Borg said: “Although a majority of member states now support our proposal, the necessary qualified majority was not reached. The decision now lies with the Commission.

“Since our proposal is based on a number of risks to bee health identified by the European Food Safety Authority, the Commission will go ahead with its text in the coming weeks.

“I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over 22 billion euros (£18.5 billion) annually to European agriculture, are protected.”