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expert reaction to Michael Gove announcement on neonicotinoids

The UK’s environment secretary Michael Gove, has announced that the UK will back a total ban on neonicotinoids across Europe.

 

Dr Achim Dobermann, Director, Rothamsted Research:

“The thing that concerns me most with these decisions is that, if you ban something, you need to be completely aware of the consequences. There will be known consequences and unknown consequences. If you have no alternative available, you might be forcing people to use something older that is worse, or forcing them towards something new that might turn out to be worse. There is not enough of a holistic view of the way that we farm, and the benefits as well as the risks of current approaches. People are perhaps more aware of the risks than they are of the benefits.”

 

Dr Lena Wilfert, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter, said:

“This change in political stance is welcome news for bees, and particularly for the conservation of wild pollinators such as bumblebees.

“Pests and pathogens are a real threat to our food security, but it’s paramount that these issues are addressed using an integrated pest management approach.

“An important further point to address is the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in ornamental plants grown in greenhouses, which at the moment does not seem to be addressed – urban gardens have become an ever more important habitat for wild bees.”

 

Prof Sir Colin Berry, Emeritus Professor of Pathology, Queen Mary University London (QMUL), said:

“It’s a very good example of how a polarised argument stops protagonists or antagonists looking at the Science (a bit like MMR). I suspect there is harm from neonics but the data are all over the place and there is a risk/benefit analysis to be made.”

 

Prof. James Bullock, Senior Ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said:

“Neonicotinoids should not simply be replaced by other damaging chemicals. It is important that research provides alternative nature-based, sustainable approaches that equip farmers with the knowledge, skills and tools to achieve the dual role of supporting wildlife and benefits that nature provides such as natural pest control and crop pollination.

“ASSIST, the NERC/BBSRC long-term programme led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is one such example where researchers are working with farmers to support a sustainable future for our farmland.”

 

Prof. Richard Pywell, Biodiversity science area head at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said:

“I welcome the fact that independent expert evidence from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and the wider scientific community, has been taken into consideration by the European Commission and the UK Government with regard to further restrictions proposed on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

“Should the proposal be adopted, it would be important to assess whether these restrictions result in Europe and the UK ‘becoming a better place for our bees and pollinators.’

“We have learnt some important lessons from relating to the use of neonicotinoids issue regarding the need for improved monitoring of pesticide use, the factors affecting their persistent in the environment and under what circumstances they may have impacts on key species, such as bees. Putting in place this improved knowledge and understanding on the fate and impacts of pesticides would enable more responsible use and stewardship of these products in the future.”

 

Dr Chris Connolly, Reader in Neurobiology at the University of Dundee, and who wrote a Perspectives article published alongside the research, said:

“I congratulate Michael Gove, a total ban on the neonicotinoids is the only way to remove their exposure to bees and other beneficial insects. This latest ‘controversy’ over the safety of the neonicotinoids demonstrates the key flaw in the process of evaluating the safety of chemicals in our environment. Allowing 20 years of unrestricted use prior to the evidence becoming available is not an effective approach to protecting our environment.”

 

Prof. Lin Field, Head of Department of Biological Chemistry and Crop Protection, Rothamsted Research said:

“I think that extending the ban to crops that don’t flower will create problems for UK farmers, especially for sugar beet and cereals. For sugar beet there are no alternatives for control of aphids and the viruses they vector, with widespread resistance to pyrethroids and carbamates. For cereal aphids pyrethroids are currently working but we know that resistance mutations are in the population and if pyrethroids become the main control measure it will make selection more likely.”

 

Prof. Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex said:

“It is great to see the government responding to the weight of evidence linking neonicotinoids to declines of wild insects such as bees and butterflies. However, if the pesticide industry simply replace neonicotinoids with some new generation of pesticides we will not have made progress, but will simply be repeating mistakes we have made over and over again for seventy years. We need to encourage farmers to move away from reliance on pesticides as the solution to the many problems that industrial monoculture cropping create.

“Recent studies from France show that farmers use more pesticides than is cost effective, perhaps encouraged by agronomists, many of whom work for pesticide companies or get commission from pesticide sales. We urgently need a fundamental re-evaluation of how we produce food, and a move towards sustainable, smaller-scale production of healthy food for local consumption. Brexit provides a golden opportunity to do exactly that.”

 

*https://www.gov.uk/government/news/environment-secretary-backs-further-restrictions-on-neonicotinoid-pesticides

 

All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink: http://www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/bees-neonicotinoids/

 

Declared interests

Dr Lena Wilfert: “No conflicts of interest”

Prof. James Bullock: none declared

Prof. Richard Pywell: 

“Scientific advisor for Buzz project 2000-2005 and Operation Pollinator – effects of landscape on oilseed rape pollination service 2010-2013 (Syngenta funded)

Defra/NE Hillesden wildlife farming project 2005-2010 (Syngenta co-funded)

BBSRC Orchard Pollination – enhancing wild pollination of top fruit orchards 2016

Principal Investigator for The Pan-European study of the effects of neonicotinoid seed dressings on insect pollinators (Co-funded by Syngenta and Bayer)

Trustee on UK National Biodiversity Network”

Dr Chris Connolly: none declared

Prof. Dave Goulson: none declared

Prof. Lin Field: “Some of the work in my department at Rothamsted is supported financially by Agro-Chemical companies, including Bayer and Syngenta, but I personally receive no remuneration from any companies.”

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