I welcome a series of initiatives supported by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to protect our bee populations. These include the Healthy Bees Plan to train beekeepers to respond to pest and disease threats and the Biodiversity 2020 programme. The objectives of this programme include a 200,000 hectare increase in priority habitats where bees can thrive. Ministers have also pledged £2.5 million of Defra funding (2010-2015) towards the £10 million Insect Pollinators Initiative which will benefit both bumble and honey bees.
I am assured that the Government takes any threat to bees very seriously and has approached the issue of neonicotinoids in this light. Ministers have repeatedly made clear that they are prepared to take any action which is shown to be necessary by the scientific evidence. Laboratory studies have shown that bees may be significantly affected by neonicotinoids. However, field data on honey bees indicates that the level of exposure in real life does not lead to these harmful effects.
The European Commission has now drawn up plans for a ban on the use of three neonicotinoids on crops "attractive to bees" and on spring cereals. This includes a ban on the sale and use of all seeds for those crops treated with the three active substances and a review after two years. The Government has continued to argue that the European Commission should respond in a way that is proportionate to the scientific evidence and to take account of research now being carried out by Defra on the impact of neonicotinoids in field conditions.
Regrettably, the Commission have chosen to ignore this evidence and the views of many other European Governments. In a recent vote on the Commission's proposed ban, the UK abstained alongside 13 other Member States who either abstained or voted against the Commission. As a result, the proposed ban has not yet been adopted.
It is the importance of bees and other pollinators that underpins the work in this area. In addressing the problems facing our bees and pollinators it is vital to understand them, take all the evidence into account and make a considered response. The Government believes that hasty action is very likely to be ineffective or to have unforeseen consequences. As such, it has said that it will continue to look at bee health in the round and will take whatever action is appropriate to safeguard these remarkable creatures.
Below is the text of a letter I recently received from the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs detailing Government policy on Neonicotinoid Insecticides and Bees
17 Smith Square
London SW1P 3JR
All Members of Parliament
15 March 2013
From Lord de Mauley Parliamentary Under Secretary
NEONICOTINOID INSECTICIDES AND BEES
I know that this is an issue in which many Parliamentarians have taken an interest and you may well have had recent correspondence on the matter. I am therefore writing to you to explain what is happening and the approach which the Government is taking.
The importance of bees
Pollinators, including bees, are essential to the health of our natural environment and to the prosperity of our farming industry. Defra attaches great importance to healthy bee populations – including managed honey bees, bumble bees and solitary bees. At a purely pragmatic level, pollination is worth several hundred million pounds per year. For Defra, bees are among our greatest allies in delivering our twin priorities of animal and plant health.
Our work to safeguard bees includes:
The Healthy Bees Plan - working with beekeepers to provide training and respond to pest and disease threats. Within this, Defra‟s National Bee Unit provides inspection, diagnostic and training services to beekeepers.
Work under the Biodiversity 2020 banner. Objectives include a 200,000 hectare increase in priority habitats and 90% in favourable or recovering condition; much of this will benefit bees and other pollinators.
Entry Level Stewardship - new options from 1 January 2013 include legume and herb rich swards, which will be beneficial to pollinators. Natural England actively help farmers to select the most appropriate ELS options to benefit wildlife including guidance for „butterflies, bees and vulnerable grassland‟.
£2.5 million Defra funding (2010-2015) towards the £10 million Insect Pollinators Initiative. Of the 9 projects being funded, 2 specifically focus on honey bees, and 6 will benefit both honey bees and bumblebees.
The Government takes any threat to bees very seriously and we have approached the issue of neonicotinoids in this light, making it clear that we are prepared to take action if the evidence indicates a need. In deciding what action may be needed to protect bees, the correct process is first to collect the evidence and make the best possible assessment of the risks posed by neonicotinoids. Then it is possible to decide a proportionate response. This includes checking for unintended consequences (such as farmers switching from neonicotinoids to alternative products with their own impacts on bees or the wider environment).
The evidence on neonicotinoids
Laboratory studies show that bees may be significantly affected by neonicotinoids. However, field data on honey bees indicates that the level of exposure in real life does not lead to these harmful effects. There has been an absence of field data on other bee species and Defra therefore commissioned field trials on bumble bees, which will produce final results within the next few weeks.
Pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, can only be sold or used if approved. This is a two stage process, with active substances being approved at EU level and products containing approved active substances being authorised by Member States. Approvals are only granted if assessment of scientific data shows that risks are acceptably low. Approvals are regularly reviewed to ensure they continue to meet current standards. Earlier review is possible if concerns arise and can lead to withdrawal of product authorisations.
The independent Advisory Committee on Pesticides has considered the evidence on several occasions. The Committee advised, following its latest meeting on 29 January, that there were grounds for a review of neonicotinoid authorisations under pesticides legislation. They also advised that a decision on regulatory action should not be taken in advance of the final outputs of the current research, which should be completed urgently. I have accepted the Committee‟s advice and officials are taking this work forward.
The role of neonicotinoids in agriculture and implications of restrictions
Neonicotinoids are important insecticides. Their use as seed treatments allows effective control of crops at the earliest stage of crop development and they control pests that are increasingly becoming resistant to other products. Although there are uncertainties, Defra‟s assessment suggests that it is highly probable that restrictions on neonicotinoids would carry significant costs for agriculture.
Developments in Europe
As in the UK, consideration of this issue in Europe has been running for some months. Considerable efforts have been put into designing an updated risk assessment process for the effects of pesticides on bees and UK experts have contributed to this work. On the instructions of the Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) carried out an assessment of the existing data on the three main neonicotinoids with the emerging new requirements. They published Conclusions in January which indicated, unsurprisingly, that the old data did not fully address the new requirements.
The Commission have drawn up plans for a ban on the use of three neonicotinoids on crops “attractive to bees” (a long list including oilseed rape and maize) and on spring cereals. This includes a ban on the sale and use of all seeds for those crops treated with the three active substances and a review after 2 years.
The UK has not ruled out action. However, we have urged the Commission to make a
proportionate response to the scientific evidence. We have called on them to complete the
scientific assessment, taking account of our new research, and to assess the impacts of
action so that the measures taken are proportionate to the risks identified.
Regrettably, the Commission have not listened to our views and those of many other
Governments. Their proposal was today put to a vote in the Standing Committee on the
Food Chain and Animal Health. The UK abstained in this vote. In total 14 Member States
either abstained or voted against the Commission.
As many Member States did not support the Commission, its proposal was not adopted
today. However, it is expected that it will go to an Appeal Committee where the proposal
will pass unless a Qualified Majority of Member States vote against.
Our next steps
We will continue to work on this issue. In particular, we will complete the field studies that
we have in hand and this will provide further much needed scientific information on field
effects of neonicotinoids. In Europe, we will continue to press the Commission to complete
an assessment of the science and the impacts of action and to draw up proportionate
We will also continue with our wider work to protect bees. It is very clear that bees face
many problems that are unrelated to neonicotinoids and it would be entirely wrong to lose
sight of these issues. We are looking across all our activities on bees to see whether there
are areas where more work is needed and whether there may be added value in bringing
together a holistic strategy or action plan for pollinators. I will be meeting Friends of the
Earth on Tuesday to discuss this issue.
It is the importance of bees and other pollinators that underpins our work in this area. In
addressing the problems facing our bees and pollinators it is vital to understand them, take
all the evidence into account and make a considered response. Hasty action is very likely
to be ineffective or to have unforeseen consequences. We will continue to look at bee
health in the round and will take whatever action is appropriate to safeguard these valuable
LORD DE MAULEY