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Pesticides and Bees

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Action needed to save our bees
New evidence of the threat to bees from neonicotinoid
pesticides
The plight of our declining bees is of concern to all of us. We need bees to pollinate most of
our food crops and wild flowers, and they play a crucial role in supporting wider biodiversity.
In 2012 Defra outlined the severity of the decline of, and threat to, bees to MPs1
:
‘There has been a severe decline in the diversity of wild bees in the
countryside…England has the greatest decline of anywhere in Europe. Since 1900,
the UK has lost 20 species of bee. A further 35 bee species are considered to be
under threat of extinction.’

Published in: Environment
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Pesticides and Bees

  1. 1. June 2015 Action needed to save our bees New evidence of the threat to bees from neonicotinoid pesticides The plight of our declining bees is of concern to all of us. We need bees to pollinate most of our food crops and wild flowers, and they play a crucial role in supporting wider biodiversity. In 2012 Defra outlined the severity of the decline of, and threat to, bees to MPs1 : ‘There has been a severe decline in the diversity of wild bees in the countryside…England has the greatest decline of anywhere in Europe. Since 1900, the UK has lost 20 species of bee. A further 35 bee species are considered to be under threat of extinction.’ The threat to bees is not restricted to the UK with the recent European Red List for Bees showing that nearly one in ten species of wild bees are facing extinction2 . There are several widely acknowledged and inter-linked causes of bee decline including loss of habitat, use of pesticides, spread of pests and diseases and increasingly, climate change. These were recognized in the National Pollinator Strategy (NPS) drawn up by the last Government. Friends of the Earth welcomed the NPS as having an important role in delivering much needed action from landowners and the public to provide the food and shelter that our bees desperately need. But although the NPS claimed to address all the causes of bee decline it failed to set out effective action to address the use of pesticides. In addition the UK Government has consistently denied the need for restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides introduced by the EU in 2013, although it has to comply with the restrictions. The Government is currently considering whether to allow an ‘emergency authorisation’ for use of these chemicals this autumn. The UK Government should now: - Recommit to action for bees by publishing a stronger NPS with clear action on pesticides - Support a permanent ban on neonicotinoid pesticides - Refuse emergency authorisations for use of neonicotinoid pesticides 1 Annex 1, paragraph 6, Written evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s insects and insecticides inquiry, December 2012 2 ‘Nearly 1 in 10 wild bee species face extinction in Europe…’ last modified 19th March 2015, http://www.iucn.org/?19073/Nearly-one-in-ten-wild-bee-species-face-extinction-in-Europe-while-the-status-of-more-than-half- remains-unknown---IUCN-report
  2. 2. Neonicotinoids a key part of the problem Current restrictions on use Pollinator scientists advising Defra list the use of pesticides as one of the key threats to bees3 . Neonicotinoid insecticides are of particular concern because of the way they act as neurotoxins. Because they are readily absorbed in sprayed plants or plants grown from treated seeds, residues are found in pollen and nectar. In 2013 three neonicotinoid insecticides (imidicloprid, thiametoxam and clothianidin) were restricted for use in the EU following a thorough review of evidence by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). They found a ‘high acute risk’ to honey bees when neonicotinoids are used on crops attractive to bees. It is worth noting that the restrictions do not cover all neonicotinoids or all crops. For example, there is growing evidence that another neonicotinoid thiacloprid may harm bees. Furthermore, due to the persistence of these chemicals in the environment (meaning that residues may remain in soil or water) the restrictions should apply to all crops. The latest science Since the restrictions were put in place several studies on neonicotinoids have been published, each adding to the weight of evidence that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees, including that there may be greater impacts on wild bees. This is of huge concern given that wild bees do most of the pollination of crops4 and pesticides are currently only tested on honey bees. Growing evidence on neonicotinoids In June 2014 the largest global study involving 29 scientists and over 1,000 papers on the effects and risks of systemic pesticides was published by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides. It concluded that neonicotinoids “are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees”. In April 2015, the highly respected European Academies Science Advisory Council concluded that there is clear scientific evidence for sub-lethal effects on bees and other pollinators exposed to very low levels of neonicotinoids over extended periods. A study by Newcastle University, published in the science journal Nature in April 2015, found that bees preferred to eat solutions containing neonicotinoids, even though the consumption of these pesticides caused them to eat less food overall. It concluded that treating flowering crops with commonly used neonicotinoids “presents a sizeable hazard to foraging bees”. A study5 reporting on field trials in Sweden, also published in Nature in April 2015, found the use of neonicotinoid treated seeds in real field conditions “has negative effects on wild bees, with potential negative effects on populations.” It also highlighted the impact of neonicotinoid treated seed between wild bees and honeybees, and how they differ. 3 Vanbergen et al (2014) ‘Status and Value..’http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Document.aspx?Document=12316_finalreportph0514.pdf 4 ‘Wild bees and not honey bees the main pollinator of UK crops,’ last modified 23rd May 2011, https://www.reading.ac.uk/news- and-events/releases/PR367212.aspx 5 Rundlof. M et al (2015) ‘Seed coating with a neonicotinoid insecticide negatively affects bees’ Nature 521 (77-80) http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v521/n7550/full/nature14420.html
  3. 3. The European Commission has now asked EFSA to review all the new evidence on neonicotinoids – a process that is likely to take the rest of this year and will then lead to further recommendations from the European Commission about the restrictions. Member States including the UK will then need to respond to the Commission’s recommendations. The Defra Secretary of State Liz Truss MP has repeatedly said that decisions on restricting pesticides must be based on science. Friends of the Earth believes the overwhelming scientific evidence shows the need for an extension of the current restrictions, and wants the UK Government to set out a clear position to support this now. Threat to bees – neonicotinoids emergency authorisation request Whilst EFSA considers the new evidence, a more immediate decision is about to be made in the UK that could allow the use of neonicotinoids on our farms this autumn. An application has been lodged by the National Farmers Union for emergency authorisation of a neonicotinoid seed treatment on oilseed rape in the autumn 2015 planting season. While there may be some cases of oilseed crop losses due to pests Friends of the Earth has not seen any evidence that these constitute an ‘emergency,’ justifying a derogation from restrictions based on clear evidence of harm to bees. There is no evidence of widespread crop failure since restrictions on neonicotinoids were introduced. In fact, according to the ADAS harvest report for 2014 oilseed rape yields were “in line with the five year average”6 . Only an estimated 5% of the untreated oilseed rape sown in autumn 2014 was lost to pests (with 1.5% being successfully redrilled)7 . In fact, according to DEFRA statistics while the area planted with oilseed rape in 2014 was lower than in 2013 due to lower prices, the yield was “good”, resulting in an increase in production of 16%8 . It is also important to consider the importance of bees to crop yield and quality. Insect pollination is known to enhance oilseed rape yields9 - and has been found to increase the value of two British apple varieties by £37m a year10 . Arable farmer Peter Lundgren, who grows oilseed rape in Lincolnshire recognises the importance of pollinators to his business: “So far I am managing well without neonicotinoids and I am constantly looking to improve my system further”…“And the cost to my business of not using neonicotinoid seed treatment is minimal - just £2.20 per hectare. As far as I’m concerned this cost is outweighed by the importance of conserving our pollinator populations.” The UK should not allow the use of restricted chemicals, where there is clear evidence of harm to insect pollinators, to be used this autumn. 6 ADAS, 2014, Harvest report http://cereals.ahdb.org.uk/media/507979/HGCA-Harvest-Report-10-Week-11-Final-PDF.pdf 7 Home Grown Cereals Authority (2015) ‘Neonicotinoid Pesticide Restriction,’ Neonicotinoid restrictions: Impact on OSR planting area and CSFB larvae activity 8 DEFRA (2015) ‘Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2014’ https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/agriculture-in-the-united- kingdom-2014 9 Bommarco, R. et al. (2012) Insect pollination enhances seed yield, quality, and market value in oilseed rape. Oecologia 169:1025-32 10 ‘Europe lacks bees to pollinate its crops,’ 9th January 2014, http://www.fwi.co.uk/arable/europe-lacks-bees-to-pollinate-its- crops.htm
  4. 4. Help bees by helping to keep neonicotinoid restrictions in place Please ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Liz Truss MP, to:  Reject the emergency authorization for use of neonicotinoids this autumn;  Set out a clear Government position in support of the current neonicotinoids moratorium by making it permanent and expanded to cover all crops. Contacts at Friends of the Earth:  Lead Bee Cause Campaigner Dave Timms: dave.timms@foe.co.uk/07701 047 880  Bee Cause Sandra Bell: Sandra.bell@foe.co.uk 07941 176 957

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