Farmers could be hit for millions of pounds if restrictions on neonicotinoid seed treatments are introduced in the UK, a new report warns.
Up to £630m could be lost from the UK economy each year if neonicotinoids are withdrawn, says the study, which was independently commissioned by EU's Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture (HFFA) and financed by Syngenta and Bayer CropScience.
Yield penalties of up to 20% for oilseed rape, sugar beet and cereal crops could ensue, which could make winter wheat an unprofitable crop for many British growers and its production unfeasible in areas of high pest pressure, the study adds.
Furthermore, a ban on neonicotinoids, which have been linked to a collapse in bee numbers over the last decade, would threaten the jobs of 1,300 people in the UK and affect the incomes of around 15,000 growers.
Chris Baldwin, managing director of farming co-operative United Oilseeds, which has 3,500 farmer members, said any ban would have serious socio-economic implication for the UK oilseed rape sector.
"As well as lower yields and revenue losses, UK crushers and processors, who currently source from UK providers exclusively, may be forced to make good any stock shortfall by importing crops from abroad," he said.
"Using neonicotinoids as a seed coating is the most effective way to apply insecticide to crops and target specific (pest and virus) threats. The alternative means having to spray post-emergent crops with insecticide in the field. As well as being less effective, this method is less targeted and means higher input costs for farmers."
In addition, world market prices for crop commodities could increase by up to 2% if an EU-wide suspension on neonicotinoids was introduced, the study found.
The report is due to be launched in Brussels on Tuesday (15 January) supported by The European Seed Association, EU farmers' organisation COPA-COGECA and the European Crop Protection Association, against a backdrop of concern about calls for further restrictions across the EU, following a suspension on the use of neonicotinoids in France last June.
The debate has been sparked by concerns for the health of bee populations, with organisations such as the Soil Association, Friends of the Earth, Bug Life and other NGO's calling for a ban on their use.
The Soil Association claimed that given it was an industry-funded report, it was unlikely to have concluded that neonicotinoids should be banned.
Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, added: “We welcome the report from the Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture because at the very least it clarifies the choices we need to make over the use of neonicotinoids in the UK.
"On the one hand, the chemical companies and the NFU say we risk the additional costs to farmers amounting to £630 million. On the other, the possible cost of losing pollinating insects is thought to be worth three times as much (£1.8 billion) to UK farmers."
Later this week, the European Food Safety Agency is due to publish a report on its in-depth review into pesticides and their possible effects on bee health.
In September, DEFRA rejected calls for a ban on neonicotinoids, stating that there was no "unequivocal" evidence that sub-lethal effects were likely to arise from their use.
In the UK, the neonicotinoid seed treatment group is primarily represented by Syngenta's thiamethoxam (in Cruiser) and Bayer's clothianidin (in Modesto).
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