The UK will finally support a ban on all bee-killing pesticides, according to Environment Secretary Michael Gove.
This is a complete reversal of the Government’s previous position on this class of pesticides, called neonicotinoids. Gove said that there was new evidence that indicated that the risk to bees and the environment was much worse than previously thought.
Prior to this, the UK Government claimed that there was not enough evidence that bees were actually harmed by the pesticides, but other member states disagreed and the ban was implemented across the EU.
Research last month found that 75% of the honey produced worldwide contained neonicotinoids. This highlighted how widespread the pesticides have become in the environment.
“The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100 billion food industry, is greater than previously understood,” said Gore. “I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk.”
Other research published in October revealed 76% of flying insect biomass in German nature protection areas had been lost in 30 years, while ongoing monitoring shows falls in many species of insects in the UK in recent decades.
Evidence has repeatedly shown that neonicotinoids are linked with the decline in bees. One recent paper even suggested that one of the pesticides has the potential to wipe out entire bumblebee populations by completely preventing the formation of new colonies.
Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: “Michael Gove is absolutely right to listen to the science and back a total ban on neonicotinoids. Study after study has shown these pesticides can harm bee colonies and contaminate our environment for years.”
Many farmers expressed concern that they would have decreased production without use of neonicotinoids, but one thing that has been proven through the research is that almost all farms will be able to discontinue use of these pesticides without seeing an effect on their production. It’s difficult for farmers to find sound advice, though, as most agronomists have ties to agrochemical companies.
Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex, UK, said: “While we have a system where farmers are advised by agronomists, most of whom work on commission for agrochemical companies, then inevitably pesticides will be massively overused. Even the few independent agronomists struggle to get independent information and advice to pass on to farmers.”
A study released in March, comparing farms using low and high levels of pesticides, actually showed that 94% of farms would lose no production if they cut pesticides and two-fifths of these would actually produce more. When looking at insecticides the study found that lower levels of insecticides would actually result in more production for 86% of farms and no farms would lose production.
Professor Dave Goulson, from the University of Sussex, said: “It is great to see the Government responding to the weight of evidence linking neonicotinoids to declines of wild insects such as bees and butterflies. However, if the pesticide industry simply replace neonicotinoids with some new generation of pesticides we will not have made progress, but will simply be repeating mistakes we have made over and over again for 70 years.”
“We need to encourage farmers to move away from reliance on pesticides as the solution to the many problems that industrial monoculture cropping create.”