Farming groups have warned the UK could be forced to rely on imported crops following the vote to extend the ban on neonicotinoid pesticides by the European Commission.
NFU Scotland described the outcome as a “disappointing blow” after 16 countries including the UK, France, Germany and Ireland voted in favour of the ban on 27 April in light of evidence linking the pesticides to a decline in pollinator populations. Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Denmark opposed the ban, while eight eligible nations abstained.
The newly extended ban will end the use of neonicotinoids Imidacloprid, Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam in open fields, but will allow their continued use in permanent greenhouses.
A partial ban, imposed in 2013, restricted the use of the three pesticides, banning their use on oilseed rape, spring cereals and sprays for winter cereals in the EU. Farmers can still use them to treat sugar beet, horticultural crops and as seed treatments for winter cereals for a phasing out period of about eight months to allow adjustment.
“Most agronomists agree that without neonicotinoids many crops grown in the UK will become less viable and a ban could simply mean we import more crops from parts of the world where there is no political desire to ban these key insecticides,” said NFU deputy president Guy Smith.
“This decision doesn’t change the fact that farmers will continue to face challenges to maintain sustainable and productive cropping systems and the pest problems that neonicotinoids helped farmers tackle have not gone away. So we will be looking to both the UK government and the Commission to work with the industry to mitigate the effect of a ban on both food production and the environment.”
Meanwhile, chairman of the NFU Scotland Combinable Crops Committee Ian Sands questioned the motives behind the ban, saying the debate had become “increasingly politicised” and influenced “more by politics and less by sound science”.
“This decision comes as a disappointing blow to many arable farmers throughout Scotland who, for years, have strived to use neonicotinoids in a safe and responsible manner,” he said.
“There are still further debates to be had on other chemicals and it is important that we continue to push EU legislators to stop basing their decision-making on politics and instead on scientific facts.”
‘Weight of evidence’
Defra welcomed the ban, echoing environment secretary Michael Gove’s commitment to maintain the ban following the UK’s exit from the EU unless there were significant changes to evidence presented.
“The government has always been clear we will be led by the science on this matter. The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids may pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators, is greater than previously understood,” said Defra in a statement.
“We recognise the impact a ban will have on farmers and will continue to work with them to explore alternative approaches as we design a new agricultural policy outside the European Union.”
However, Greenpeace said the ban didn’t go far enough, calling on the EU and domestic governments to enforce a blanket ban on all neonicotinoids, rather than the three singled out. It pointed to EU-approved neonicotinoid pesticides Acetamiprid, Thiacloprid, Sulfoxaflor and Flupyradifurone in support of the statement, claiming they were “just as dangerous for bees and food production”.