Posted 9th Nov 2017
Michael Gove has today announced the most radical shift in the UK's position on neonicotinoids since Buglife first wrote to Defra ministers in 2008, when they initially raised concerns about the risks to wild bees and aquatic life
Evidence from Canada this year put their harmful impact, from the persistent contamination of the countryside with dust and washed off neonicotinoids, beyond all reasonable doubt.
However, there was enough evidence a year ago for the European Food Standards Authority to determine that they presented a high risk to wild bees, along with enough evidence for Buglife to call for a precautionary ban in it's report, following a scientific review in 2009.
Under Hilary Benn, the Defra response to concerns about the impacts of neonicotinoids on wildlife in 2009 was deflection - this evolved in 2012 under Owen Paterson to become a determined rejection, until the EC intervened and imposed a partial ban in 2013. Since 2013, the UK Government's position has been unenthusiastic compliance, with two derogations granted in 2014 and 2015, which allowed farmers to use neonicotinoid seed treatments.
The policy change today follows new advice from the Expert Committee on Pesticides and puts the UK firmly behind moves to extend existing partial bans in both time and scope. The EC is planning to bring an overdue proposal together to include all outdoor crops in the ban to a Council meeting in December.
Buglife CEO Matt Shardlow commented: "The evidence that neonics applied to non-flowering crops harm pollinators has been clear for over a year, but the EU has been stuck, unable to get sufficient votes from Member States to push through the full ban on outdoor use that the scientists at the European Food Safety Authority and regulators in the Commission know is required. In taking this ‘unfrozen moment’ in British politics to put bees and science at the centre of our priorities for sustainable agriculture Michael Gove may also unfreeze the EU and secure an EU wide ban that will benefit insects across the continent".
When the UK leaves the EU, they would have to take greater responsibility for the regulation of pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals - this means developing expertise, regulatory capacity and a culture of modern and responsible conduct.
Environmentalists are anxious about leaving the EU, as it could mean losing our environmental principles. Previously, we relied on EU policy making being based on the precautionary principle, but this isn't currently being carried into UK law.
An amendment tabled to the Withdrawal Bill would save the environmental principles, making sure they continue to apply as before, in both policy and law. Environmentalists are hoping Michael Gove will understand that applying the precautionary principle will save wild bee populations, from years of sever and on-going damage.
Matt added: "Buglife warmly welcomes the UK’s change of position. Brexit will give the UK more control over the health of our ecosystems, it is essential in doing so that we apply the highest standards of care and the full range of environmental principles. Michael Gove’s support for a more comprehensive ban on neonicotinoids to protect our disappearing bees and pollinators is just the sort of decisive and science based action that the public needs to see to restore confidence in the UK’s ability to be a responsible custodian of our precious natural environment."
Image courtesy of Buglife