At Last! Bee Harming Insecticide Will Be Banned in the UK

In a significant reversal of government policy, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has announced that the UK will now support a total ban on insecticides that contain neonicotinoids.

The Guardian quotes Grove as saying:

“’The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100bn food industry, is greater than previously understood,’ said Gove. ‘I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk.’

In an article for the Guardian, Gove said: ‘As is always the case, a deteriorating environment is ultimately bad economic news as well.’ He said pollinators boost the yield and quality of UK crops by £400m-£680m every year and said, for example, gala apple growers are now having to spend £5.7m a year to do replace the work of lost natural pollinators.”

Despite the mountains of evidence that have been available since the turn of the decade, the Conservative-led government decided to break with the European policy of restricting neonicotinoid use that was announced in 2013. It was overruled due to Europe’s control over farming policy, but the UK government maintained that neonicotinoids were safe and a major boon to the farming industry.

The European Commission is now reviewing whether it will renew that same ban and, what’s more, whether there is evidence enough to say that neonicotinoids of all kinds should be restricted, rather than just the handful restricted under the current ban. Mr Gove’s announcement signals that the UK will now support such a ban.

Mr Gove also confirmed to the press that this stance against neonicotinoids will remain the same after Brexit, meaning that despite the UK (potentially) parting ways with the EU, this is a policy that the UK will stick to. That could be key in keeping farming policy in line with the EU which, while not technically required for trade, may make trade easier.

This comes after a landmark study looking at winged insects in Germany showed a dramatic decline of almost 75 percent in insect biomass, while wider studies have shown bees and other pollinators show dramatic behavioral changes and sometimes fail to thrive when they are exposed to neonicotinoids, whether directly or as a result of insecticide drift, a problem we may have been underestimating.

In announcing this change of policy Mr Gove made clear that he is acutely aware that use of neonicotinoids has been a farming industry standard. As such,  he wants to work with the industry in order to find other solutions.

Officials from the national farming sector have said they “deeply regret” this change however.

Dr Chris Hartfield, NFU acting chief science and regulatory affairs adviser, is quoted as saying, “Farmers rely on bees to pollinate crops and have planted around 10,000 football pitches of flower habitat across the country to support a healthy bee population and give them a good home.” Dr Hartfield said.

“We deeply regret the decision the Government has taken on this issue as we don’t believe the evidence justifies this abrupt change in policy. We will continue to speak to the Government about how the impact of the decision can best be mitigated so that farmers can maintain sustainable and productive cropping systems.”

Commentators have previously called neonicotinoids a “band-aid” on an uncomfortable truth: that mass agriculture requires chemical interventions in order to have any hope of being sustainable.

There are however alternatives to neonicotinoids. For example, natural parasites (parasitic wasps) and larger insects can be used to keep aphids and other so-called pests under control. There are also management strategies that can play a part in supporting such efforts, for example rotating crop seeding to build crop resistance to pests. To be sure, these methods do not provide the blanket protection that neonicotinoids have offered, but there are viable strategies out there and ones that now need further testing to see how they might fit in our agricultural practices.

This comes as the European Commission also looks at whether it will reauthorize or refuse herbicides containing glyphosate, a key ingredient in the popular industry agent Round Up. Europe was set to rule this past week but has once again reached deadlock on the issue. Reauthorization will now go to committee adjudication.

So far, the UK has appeared leery of a total ban on the weedkiller, but this apparent reversal on neonicotinoids seems to signal that the winds have changed and that the weight of evidence has now become so great that agricultural policy may change as a result.

For our bees and our wildlife as a whole, this change cannot come fast enough.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

36 comments

Catherine Z
Catherine Z4 days ago

There are other alternative actions that can be done NOW...no studies that take tons of money and Yeats of study. Bats, birds, lace wings and lady bugs are just a few. I plant a large portion of my small yard with wildflowers, butterfly bushes, marigolds, trees of Sharon, mums and tiger lilies. I also hang hummingbird feeders and bird houses in high enough places where my cats can't bother them. I'm not waiting for some time/money consuming study to tell me what I can do to help. This year I have seen not only the bees returning but to my delight, I have also seen the return of Monarch butterflies! Does my heart good that I can make an immediate difference. Did you realize that some countries actually have to pollinate by hand??!!

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Muff-Anne York-Haley

Great, now let’s do this in North America.

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Michele B
Michele B8 days ago

while it is a slow process, it is a step in the right direction. Too bad more bees need to unfortunately die while other countries debate this issue

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Debbi W
Debbi W8 days ago

Thank goodness. Wish that we could do that here but Dumbfutz hates real science and doesn't understand what the damage would be.

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Debra Tate
Debra Tate8 days ago

Signed. Thanks

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Peggy B
Peggy B8 days ago

Great .

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Angeles Madrazo
Angeles M8 days ago

Great beginning! Thank you

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Lenore K
Lenore K8 days ago

ok

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