UK Easing of EU Neonic Ban Riles Critics

08.10.2015 -

As the preliminary end of the EU’s two-year moratorium on certain applications of neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides nears, the UK’s decision in July to allow selective exceptions is creating negative press for the government of Prime Minister David Cameron.

Along with environmental advocates, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is looking critically at the UK move, which comes just as the EU authority has confirmed that neonics applied as foliar sprays pose a risk to bees.

EFSA has published assessments on the risks to bees from clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam for all uses other than seed treatments and granules.

The UK bowed to a request from the National Farmers Union (NFU) asking for a partial overturning of the moratorium to allow the use of enough neonic-treated seeds to grow 5% of oil seed rape plantings across the country.

Two neonicotinoid pesticides made by Bayer and Syngenta are now permitted to be used for 120 days on about 5% of England’s oil seed rape crop. Products from the two companies will also be allowed to be used to fight the cabbage stem flea beetle.

Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth has filed a High Court challenge to have the exceptions reversed.

The farmers had asked for lifting of restrictions because of what they said was widespread crop losses of oilseed rape crops due to infestation by cabbage stem flea beetles. However, agricultural experts doubted the findings as UK farmers reported yields of 3-9% above the 10-year average.

The invertebrate conservation charity Buglife was quoted in the UK press as saying the yield rise in fact could be an early sign that the neonicotinoid ban is showing benefits.

EFSA and other groupings said the study used by the UK to sanction the reintroduction of neonicotinoids is deeply flawed. Having failed in their attempt to collate field data, scientists from the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) have been accused of misreading the complex statistical data analysis.

While the prime minister has defended the exceptions, more than 500,000 people reportedly have signed a petition opposing the suspension of the ban.

Adding fuel to its critics’ fire, the Cameron government ordered that the minutes of the Expert Committee on Pesticides, which approved the “selective reintroduction” of neonicotinoids, should be withheld from the public.

The EU ban will be reviewed at the end of this year. To help the Commission assess new scientific information on the risks posed to bees by the three neonicotinoids applied as seed treatment and granules, EFSA asked national authorities, research institutions, industry and other interested parties to submit their findings by Sept. 30.