The UK government will support a total ban on the use of bee-harming pesticides on outdoor crops, environment secretary Michael Gove said today (9 November).
The European Commission has proposed extending the existing EU ban on three neonicotinoids – Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam – to all crops, restricting their use to plants in greenhouses.
Setting out the UK’s position on the issue today, Gove said tougher restrictions were justified by the “growing weight of scientific evidence” to suggest neonicotinoids were harmful to bees, and warned the government would maintain them post-Brexit.
“I’ve always been clear I will be led by the science on this matter,” he said. “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. I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk.”
Currently, neonicotinoids are banned for use on oilseed rape, spring cereals and sprays for winter cereals in the EU, but farmers can still use them to treat sugar beet and as seed treatments for winter cereals.
“I recognise the impact further restrictions will have on farmers and I am keen to work with them to explore alternative approaches both now and as we design a new agricultural policy outside the European Union,” Gove added.
The UK would have the right to consider emergency authorisations should the EC proposal be adopted, but would only do so in “exceptional circumstances” where there was a real need for the products and the risks to bees and other pollinators was “sufficiently low”, he said.
It follows advice from the UK government’s advisory body on pesticides in the light of new evidence over the damage that neonicotinoids do to bee populations.
“The important question is whether neonicotinoid use results in harmful effects on populations of bees and other pollinators as a whole,” said Defra’s chief scientific advisor Professor Ian Boyd.
“Recent field-based experiments have suggested these effects could exist. In combination with the observation of widespread and increasing use of these chemicals, the available evidence justifies taking further steps to restrict the use of neonicotinoids.”
Gove’s announcement was welcomed by environmental groups in the UK, which have been arguing in favour of a total ban on the pesticides to protect bees.
“Study after study has shown these pesticides can harm bee colonies and contaminate our environment for years,” said Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven.
“Bees are vital not just to our countryside and wildlife but to the human food chain too as they pollinate many of the fruits and vegetables we eat. We cannot take any chances with their wellbeing.”