Industry and farming groups have reacted to the news that Waitrose is to ban suppliers from using three neonicotinoid pesticides over concerns about their effect on bees, butterflies and other crop pollinators.

Announcing the move, Waitrose MD Mark Price said: “We believe our decision on the three formulations of neonicotinoids is appropriate until conclusive evidence is put forward about the effects of these three chemicals.”

In response, Luke Gibbs, North Europe head of corporate affairs at Syngenta, a producer of neonicotinoids, said: “Waitrose’s new-found concern about bee health is closely aligned with Syngenta’s efforts to protect bees, which started 10 years ago with Operation Pollinator.

“However, we find it odd that a respected retailer has ignored hard evidence from the field, most recently from the UK government and others, that these pesticides pose a very low risk to bees.

“Our product has been used safely on millions of hectares of crops for over a decade without damaging bee health – and this has been validated by regulatory authorities around the world.”

Dr Chris Hartfield, the National Farmers’ Union lead on bee health, said Waitrose was taking a “populist” approach, rather than one driven by scientific evidence:

“Without good evidence, we risk making changes based on popular opinion that do nothing to measurably improve pollinator health, but do have costs for the supply chain and unintended consequences for the environment.”

Move welcomed

However, Friends of the Earth’s Andrew Pendleton welcomed the supermarket’s decision. “This is fantastic news – Waitrose is the latest major retailer to take action on pesticides linked to bee decline. We urge other stores to follow suit.

“But pesticides are not the only challenge facing British bees – the government must introduce a bee action plan to tackle habitat loss and all the other threats they face.”

Helen Browning, CEO of the Soil Association, added: “We strongly support this move from Waitrose. Europe’s leading scientific experts have recommended suspending the use of three neonicotinoids damaging bees, the European Commission has agreed and the all-party environment committee of the House of Commons has unanimously backed a ban.

“Surely the combination of scientific expertise, political consensus and action by responsible business will be enough to persuade [environment minister] Owen Paterson to stop Defra scoring another own goal, and instead act to protect our vital pollinators.”