Research into pesticides and bees must be transparent, urge MPs

MPs have warned that “critical” research on the impact of pesticides linked to damaging bee health must be transparent and open to independent scrutiny.

The government’s draft National Pollinator Strategy, which aims to protect bees and other pollinators worth an estimated £400m a year to the UK economy, sets out that part of the research into the effects of neonicotinoids on bees would be carried out by pesticide manufacturers.

In response to the draft plans, MPs on the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), have called for the research to be “transparent and subject to independent controls” or it will “not inspire public confidence”.

The committee’s chairwoman Joan Walley MP said: “When it comes to research on pesticides, Defra is content to let the manufacturers fund the work.

“This testifies to a loss of environmental protection capacity in the department responsible for it.

“If the research is to command public confidence, independent controls need to be maintained at every step.

“Unlike other research funded by pesticide companies, these studies also need to be peer-reviewed and published in full.”

And the MPs have called on Defra to accept the two-year EU ban on neonicotinoids and not seek to overturn it when the European commission conducts a review next year.

Last December, the European Commission ordered a two-year suspension on the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides – thiamethoxam, clothianidin, and imidacloprid – after scientists linked their use to a decline in bee numbers.

The UK government and former Defra secretary Owen Paterson strongly opposed the ban, saying the evidence that these pesticides were harmful to bees was “inconclusive” . Instead, Mr Paterson called for a delay to any ban while studies could be conducted at field level.

But in its latest report , the committee said that the evidence was of sufficient concern to warrant a ban on all three neonicotinoids, manufactured by Syngenta and Bayer CropScience.

The report said: “New studies have added weight to those that indicated a harmful link between pesticide use and pollinator populations.”

The Crop Protection Association (CPA) has criticised the committee’s findings.

Its chief executive, Nick Von Westenholz, said: “We are disappointed with some of the recommendations relating to pesticides in the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on the National Pollinator Strategy, particularly their recommendation that the government should now accept the European Commission’s moratorium on three neonicotinoid insecticides.

“The government’s own expert technical agency, the Chemicals Regulation Directorate, has recently stated that there is no further evidence that changes the government’s position that neonicotinoids are safe for use in the environment.”

A spokesman for Syngenta said: “Syngenta is disappointed that the committee, whose political rather than technical opposition to neonicotinoid pesticides is well known, is trying to challenge the validity of this independently conducted research before it has even started.

“The independent organisation undertaking the research will submit the results for peer review and public scrutiny and are confident it will make an important contribution to the public debate on this technology and bee health.

“We look forward to [the committee’s] technical rather than political assessment of the data.”

A Defra spokesman said: “Bees and other pollinators are vital for our environment. This report recognises we are doing more than ever before to protect them, not least encouraging people to take simple steps such as growing more pollen-rich flowers.

“As we draw up our National Pollinators Strategy for publication later in the year, we will look at this report with interest. This government is determined to do all that it can to help bees and pollinators flourish.”

But Friends of the Earth nature campaigner Sandra Bell said: “If the government’s action plan to protect Britain’s pollinators is to have any credibility it must back the ban on bee-harming insecticides and set out a clear strategy to reduce pesticide use.”