Neonicotinoids – temporary ban

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Owen Paterson must have been really hacked off by the vote in Europe yesterday to enforce a temporary ban on neonicotinoids.  But at least it explains why some in his party think that we are going to be flooded with Romanians looking for jobs and benefits any time soon – we have a love of neonicotinoid pesticides in common with our fellow Europeans in Romania.

Well done to Buglife for leading the charge on this issue, and for rallying the troops too (and for disseminating this attractive map of how different countries voted).  This is just one battle in the war but it is a victory.

It might be worth thinking about what overall victory really looks like – is it a total ban on neonics? Is it a total ban on harmful insecticides? And to what extent are these two things the same?

Assuming that the two-year ban does come in, how will decision-makers decide what to do next? Presumably we don’t have to be up to our necks in bees and honey for the ban to continue?


24 Replies to “Neonicotinoids – temporary ban”

  1. Given his entrenched attitude about “the science being unproven”, do you think that re-drawing Paterson’s attention to raw memories like the cumulative effects of DDT or, even worse the debacle of Thalidomide, might relax his posture on neonics?

  2. Has the BBKA stopped taking sponsership money from Bayer and other agri-chemical manufactures now? I’m wondering but I can’t find anything one way or the other

    1. The BBKA created a secret company – BBKA Enterprises in 2000AD. The sole purpose of this company was to receive £17,000 a year from Bayer, Syngenta, BASF and Belchim – in return for endorsing 4 of their insecticids as ‘bee friendly’. This was done without the knowledge of the BBKA members – and the Executive signed a ten year contract with Bayer et al – which ran until 2010. No member of the BBKA has ever seen that contract. Many members objected when the dirty deal was discovered by the Durham beekeepers in 2003 – but it made no differene. The pesticide lobbyists are firmly in the saddle at the BBKA. Hundreds of us resigned and we will not rejoin the BBKA until it swears on the Bible that it will never accept money from poison manufacturers. Tim Lovett of the BBKA still appears on television with Bayer executives, extolling their ‘care of bees’. it is on Youtube here:

      David Ramsden wrote an excellent report on the entire sad story. Here:

      every one of the four pesticides which Lovett & Co endorsed as ‘Bee Friendly’ is in fact deadly to bees, insects, invertebrates and wildlife.

      You could not make this up.

  3. No, I don’t think its a total ban – even conservationists find pesticides useful at times.

    I’d suggest there is a huge, if not unexplored certainly unpublicised, area between current practice and minimum effective usage of insecticides. As an example, look at application methods – I worked on controlled droplet application for the Forestry Commission. FC wanted to use it because of the problems of getting large quantities of water onto rough hillsides but the critical issue is that these techniques target the pesticide far more accurately, reducing the active ingredients needed and greatly reducing drift/non-target impacts. That is just one example – but a very experienced farming friend says many farmers he knows are still spraying prophylactically – and there is little doubt low prices combined with heavy promotion by the chemical companies are to blame.

  4. Thanks for this piece Mark, it poses an interesting question. The result of the vote can be seen as a starting point for the really hard work to begin. It is essential to ensure that there is no reversion to older, nastier foliar sprays. There is no evidence, apart from industry scaremongering, to suggest that this will be the case but it is a possibility.
    The decision should be used as a spur to innovation in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) with a focus on non-chemical methods for pest control. This has been achieved in Italy following their ban on the use of neonicotinoid treated seeds on maize. They have seen no loss in yield or profitability but have seen a decrease in honey bee mortality.
    The new UK National Action Plan on pesticides should have included many measures to promote and establish a robust system of IPM in the UK, but it didn’t. Perhaps the necessity of now having to do without some of the neonicotinoids will mean that new methods will have be looked at. However, it is key that the government takes an active role in this, the burden cannot simply be placed on farmers. But with the current team in place at Defra and the opinions of current scientific advisers I find it hard to believe that Defra will do anything of any use.
    We shall see!

  5. Thought it was worth drawing attention to Ian Newton’s excellent review of “Organochlorine pesticides and birds” in the latest British Birds. There are clearly many differences, but also many wider similarities including the level of evidence required, arguments about the need for pesticides, entrenched industry positions etc. Ian does then touch on Neonicotinoids (and other chemicals such as Ivermectin) – very interesting read and I’d recommend it.

    Good point about “end game” though Mark. At the end of the day, there’s a fixed amount of energy (sunlight) coming in and a proportion of this gets turned into biodiversity – initially plants (including crops) and then everything else. The more we siphon off for people, the less there is for everything else. If we reduce a certain type of pesticide in one context, the chances are that another area of the biosphere will take a hit to compensate. This is the big picture/end game to think about – but it is clearly not always comfortable thinking.

  6. Why do PMs pick the most inept people to be Ministers of a department that deals with a subject the Ministers know nothing about? Do they have to.

    1. Diapensia – part of the answer to that is in Fighting for Birds. But how can you say that about a man who lives inthe countryside, rides a horse, traps squirrels? What more do you want? At least Labour have the excuse that rather too many of them have never been to the countryside…

          1. Yes of course – Mrs Bucket.

            I suffer a trail of unconscious association between Caravan, Canterbury, and Becket – who once slept not 50m away from where I sit now, during his sojourn with King Dick II.

      1. Hello Mark, you ask what more do I want. The answer to that is, a government who acts positively for wildlife, while they are in office. There is little chance of ex government people doing anything at all for wildlife when they have been voted out of office. Governments are not voted in, they are voted out. The difference is that the public are aware what they did in office, i.e. failed the public. This government have adopted the beeching principle, if it does not pay, close it. Any fool can do that.

  7. Total ban? No. Time-limited moratorium on specific uses of specific neonicotinoids where there is a risk of ingestion or contact by bees. So it’s a good result, even if we don’t yet know where or when the Fat Lady will be singing.

    The trouble is neonics are persistent in soil, water-soluble, systemic, non-specific neurotoxins with cumulative effect. Another trouble is that seed treatment is prophylactic. Even under IFM, if the pest (eg cabbage stem flea beetle) has previously been a problem. This has become standard husbandry to the extent that untreated non-Organic OSR seed is not generally available. While bees and OSR are under close scrutiny, there is major use of neonics on cereals, beet and patooties, which are of no interest to pollinators except in the febrile minds of Grauniad “journalists”.

    What next? Go for the jugular – get neonics on list of priority substances under the Water Framework Directive. Remember, the herbicide isoproturon was banned because of the risk it posed to aquatic life including algae and invertebrates – at the time it was the most-used herbicide in the UK. WFD may be the way to bypass Rambo, Walmart and Bored – but EA don’t monitor neonics in ground- or surface-water. I wonder why, and what they would find if they did?

  8. This is an interesting thread, for me. It makes clear that the issue is very complex but also highlights (indirectly) the various attitudes towards science v nature. My attitude is that Ma Nature has developed “her” area of expertise over a few millions of years whilst bio science has had, effectively, about 150 years to reach its’ current level of arrogance. As we have seen before, when financially motivated programmes are introduced to the natural world it is rarely beneficial to natural systems. The onus should always be on the science to be proven entirely “safe” before the box is opened as recovery & restitution are seldom possible when there is nature is adversely affected. It is surely overdue for an independent assessor to audit any artificial organo-chemicals before they may be used in the environment. It is worth noting that only just recently there have been concerns over the toxicity of GMOs and claims that some may be carcinogenic. We know that governments and multinationals are loath to admit mistakes and will fight tooth & nail to defend their vested interests – which are invariably about revenue. Surely the Government’s first duty is to the safety of agri-chemicals rather than to any alleged future benefits of increased production. The human population is growing too fast and obesity is still one of the more serious health risks to humans. Logic suggests that increased food production is not as critical as population control and safeguarding what we can of what remains of nature.

  9. Lets hope things dramatically improve for Bees in the next two years then it will be a easy decision.We also have to watch that the alternative sprays that are replacing neonics are not even worse or even have any detrimental effects on Bees.

  10. Thank you everyone for all your efforts to look after our bees and wild pollinators.

    This is an important step.

    But, there is work ahead, it was clear from the TV news articles last night that the pesticides industry is not going to lie down and the NFU and BBKA are unmoved and remain dedicated to preserving Neonics.


    Achievements so far:-
    • Significant EU wide ban that will reduce risk levels
    • Damage to pollination services now deemed unacceptable
    • 73% of public support action
    • UK Government position on pesticides and the environment fully exposed
    • An initial commitment from UK Government to introduce a pollinator monitoring programme
    • EC implementing legislation and using precaution
    • As a result it should be clearer now that the pesticides industry has to prove that the insecticides are safe, the public don’t have to prove they are harmful

    • Naysayers are still active – particularly BBKA and FERA.
    • Defra and UK Gov are in denial.
    • Pesticide industry claim that the science is controvercial is quite effective, as it it was for DDT, Climate Change and tobacco.
    • Media is still obsessed with the honeybee, the wider environmental issue relating to wild pollinators is still eclipsed at key moments.
    • The ban is a) temporary and b) will only apply to c.50% of UK planting area.
    • Still lots of potential for damage to aquatic and soil life and, with unknown levels of contamination build up in the soil with seeds that will have been produced from plants on which neonics have been applied, it is not clear that pollen and nectar will be safe, and dust exposure from planting will still occur in late summer.
    • Acetamiprid and Thiacloprid are still in play with very little evidence of their safety and concerns about their synergism with fungicides.
    • UK review of uses is underway, but will it address all the legally relevant environmental concerns? – aquatic life, soil, BAP species, protected sites?

    We have a lot still to achieve to make pollinators safer:-
    • Make sure the ban is implemented – could the regulations be sidestepped? How would anyone know? What is the enforcement if crops are planted at the wrong time? Not part of cross-compliance.
    • Buglife must stay abreast of the research.
    • Resist the counter campaign so that in 2 years the bees are still safe.
    • Fix the broken pesticides regulations – data must be open and statistically robust – no more secrets and inference.
    • Approval process should include testing for sublethal poisoning to wild bees, hoverflies and Lepidoptera in the regime as a minimum

    • We must also address the loss of wildflowers in the countryside – 97% loss only 0.3% of this recreated in 20 years of agri environment payments – Government must take affirmative action to target pollinator measures in agri-environment schemes – innovative new approaches to the problem are required, such as B-Lines
    • England, Wales and Scotland all need pollinator action plans to fix the problem – Welsh draft is not very enlightened – very little new action proposed.

    We look forward to working with all of you to achieve these important outcomes.

    Best wishes


    CEO Buglife

    1. Matt – many thanks for your comment and ‘Well done!’ again for Buglife’s leading role.

      1. Can we add better hedgerow management added to the above list too.
        Desperately trying to get our bosses to take up the B-Lines initiative, you wouldn’t think it would be that difficult!!!

  11. “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” Eisenhower, Dwight D.

    1. Good quote.

      NFU spokes have been in the meejar today warning of the imminent collapse of civilisation and catastrophic effects on anything you care to name. Believe it or not there was a time when there were no neonics, no-one was bothered by flea beetle, the biggest fear was finger-and-toe and woodies had to be kept on the move at dawn and dusk if you wanted a crop at all and when you got it right it was the best entry for first wheat. All that can still be had.

      There are already 2nd generation neonics in use, and I would be amazed if Baygenta didn’t have 3rd generation successor or other actives in the pipeline. Neonics have been the biggest selling insecticides globally so there must be plenty in the kitty to ride out the moratorium. If the result in two years is a more thorough regulatory system which recognises the need to protect non-target species from broad-spectrum insecticides it will be to everyone’s benefit.

  12. FARMERS WEEKLY Neonicotinoids ban to hit OSR establishment
    Philip Case
    Friday 03 May 2013 07:00

    Oilseed rape crop establishment and early season pest control will be a “nightmare” after an EU ban on neonicotinoids, say crop experts.

    Due to come into effect on 1 December, the EU’s decision to ban neonicotinoid pesticides is a “catastrophic blow” for farmers which will see them resorting to older chemistry with potentially worse environmental impact for bees.

    After this autumn, growers will be forced to switch from neonicotinoid seed treatments to spraying with pyrethroid foliar sprays, such as cypermethrin, to control pests such as virus-carrying aphids and cabbage stem flea beetle.

    “It’s a sad day for UK agriculture when you see these targeted products go,” said Julian Little, UK spokesman for Bayer CropScience, which manufactures imidacloprid and clothianidin.

    But for farmers who have problems with crop establishment even multiple sprays of pyrethroids, although they are cheap, are only going to do a “limited job”, he explained.

    “In a difficult year, farmers may need as many as four extra sprays. But they don’t work very well and resistance is building in flea beetle in Germany and parts of the UK.”

    East Yorkshire arable farmer Paul Temple usually uses Syngenta’s Cruiser OSR (thiamethoxam) seed treatment for early season control of 40-50ha of oilseed rape.

    “We’re still going to try and get the treated seed this autumn,” he said. “We have a real flea beetle problem and losing one of the most precise forms of pesticides means we run the risk of resorting to two cypermethrin sprays.”

    Tim Lovett, of the British Beekeepers Association, said it would be extremely difficult to run field trials to see if neonicotinoids were harmful to bees.

    “We now expect farmers to use products such as pyrethroids that we know are hazardous to bees,” he added.

    The main reasons bee numbers were in decline were poor weather, diseases and the loss of habitat, he said. “We are very concerned about the decision as we cannot point an accusative finger at neonicotinoids, there is a lack of a smoking gun.”

    The UK government opposed the ban in Monday’s vote. DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson said the evidence that neonicotinoids harmed bees was “inconclusive” and urged delays while more field studies are completed.

    The NFU said the ban would have “catastrophic impacts” for food production and “unintended consequences” for the environment, without any measurable benefits for bee health.

    But environmentalists hailed the ban as a “victory for bees”. Friends of the Earth’s Andrew Pendleton said: “This decision is a significant victory for common sense and our beleaguered bee populations.”

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