I have recently been contacted by a considerable amount of constituents about neonicotinoids and bees. I am in no doubt about the importance of pollinators to our food supply, biodiversity and economy and I share your concern about declining bee numbers. I attended the event on 9th June and have attached a photo here.
As you are aware, the European Commission announced in 2013 that it would restrict the use of neonicotinoids to crops that are not attractive to bees and other pollinators after the European Food Safety Authority concluded that 3 commonly used neonicotinoid pesticides pose an unacceptable danger to bees. The Coalition Government initially opposed the ban.
I appreciate there are many reasons for the decline of pollinators, including habitat loss, climate change and pests and diseases. However, the Government cannot continue to ignore the threat to bees from neonicotinoids. I support the current European-wide ban because I believe it is a proportionate response to the evidence. I am also aware that since the ban, more evidence has appeared which emphasises the risk of these pesticides to bees.
However, the Government approved an application for the ban to be lifted in autumn 2015 to allow chemicals to be sprayed on oilseed rape to help prevent crop damage. The Government has confirmed it has received two new applications for emergency authorisation in 2016. These are currently being assessed and the Government says it will make its decision based on advice it receives from the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides. I believe it is vital to take a science-led approach to pesticide use and to consider how best to support farmers, protect wildlife and reverse the decline of pollinators.
The Government is providing £900 million through its Countryside Stewardship scheme, which offers payments to farmers for taking actions for pollinators. However, I am concerned by the very low-uptake of this scheme and believe the Government measures to restore farmers’ fragile confidence in it. I am also concerned that the way in which the Government is implementing the new ‘greening’ requirements of the basic payment scheme will not deliver improvements for pollinators in the farmed landscape and I would like to see more effort from the Government in creating better farm habitats and in assessing alternatives to neonicotinoids and providing more support to farmers with Integrated Pest Management.
As you may be aware, the European Commission (EC) is currently reviewing the evidence and will look at the effects on bees from seed treatment and granule uses of the restricted neonicotinoids on any crop. The EC is expected to complete its assessment by 31 January 2017 and the UK Government says it will base its view on future regulation on all the available scientific evidence. I am pleased the Government now seem to have an open mind to considering the evidence, especially given their previous opposition to the ban.
I can assure you I will continue to press the Government to apply evidence-based policy.