1 Introduction |
1. In recent years, approximately two thirds of species
of wild insect pollinators have experienced population decline
in the UK, while managed honeybees have experienced unusually
high mortality rates, an impaired ability to pollinate crops,
decreased fecundity, increased susceptibility to disease and the
loss of hives. Emerging
scientific evidence on the possible influence on those trends,
which have been replicated across Europe, of neonicotinoid pesticides
has driven a discussion about the appropriate response by Governments
and regulators. That
discussion has resulted in a range of regulatory actions across
Europe, where French, German, Italian and Slovenian authorities
have variously suspended the use of certain neonicotinoid insecticides
on particular crops.
2. Several research studies were published in 2012
on the impact of neonicotinoids on bees, notably Henry et al (A
common pesticide decreases foraging success and survival in honeybees),
Whitehorn et al (Neonicotinoid pesticide reduces bumblebee
colony growth and queen production) and Gill et al (Combined
pesticide exposure severely affects individual and colony-level
traits in bees). In September 2012, Defra published Neonicotinoid
insecticides and bees: The state of the science and the regulatory
response, which included its review of the Henry and Whitehorn
research. It concluded that those studies did not justify changing
the regulations and announced that it would undertake further
3. In May 2012, the European Food Safety Authority
(EFSA) published a Scientific Opinion on the risk assessment of
pesticides in relation to bees, which identified a need for a
more comprehensive risk assessment for bees and recommended the
introduction of a higher level of scrutiny in interpreting field
studies on the impact of pesticides. Those higher standards of
environmental protection and of scrutiny of field studies are
yet to be agreed by EU Member States and are currently out for
consultation. The European
Commission also tasked EFSA to produce a new risk assessment for
neonicotinoids, which was published in January 2013 in the course
of our inquiry.
4. Against that background of continuing scientific
research on the possible effects of neonicotinoids on pollinators
and discussion about the appropriate regulatory response, we decided
to undertake an inquiry on what the approach in the UK should
be and on how the Government should seek to shape policy making
and regulation in the EU.
The timing of this inquiry
reflects not only the current debate in the UK and EuropeEU
Member States voted on a proposal to implement a temporary moratorium
on the use of certain neonicotinoids in particular circumstances
on 15 March 2013but seeks to contribute to the ongoing
discussion about the relationship between science and politics
and the application of the precautionary principle.
5. The relationship
between insects and insecticides also relates to a wider recent
debate about sustainable food. In our May 2012 Report, Sustainable
Food, we highlighted the links between food production research,
food production and consumers' options and behaviours, and examined
in particular the environmental impacts of producing food, the
appropriate role of developing new food production techniques
and the role of biotechnology.
6. We took oral evidence from NGOs, scientists, the
Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP), pesticide manufacturers
Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, Defra officials, the Defra Minister
Lord de Mauley, EFSA and agronomists. We also took written evidence
from a range of people who are concerned about the plight of bees
and other pollinators, and about the potential environmental impacts
of pesticides on the environment more generally. We are grateful
to them all.
7. In our inquiry, we focused primarily on neonicotinoids,
rather than other pesticides, and their effects on pollinators
rather than other potential environmental impacts. Accordingly,
although we took evidence on potential impacts on human health
(Annex), these were not a feature of our inquiry. We examined
the pesticides approval system (Part 2), risk assessment, risk
management and the precautionary principle (Part 3), and what
more needs to be done to support pollinators in the UK (Part 4).
Insect pollinator populations
8. Thousands of insect species contribute to pollination
in the UK, including bees, hoverflies, butterflies, carrion flies,
beetles, midges and moths. The relative contribution of different
insect species in providing pollination services has not been
systematically assessed in the UK. Several characteristics of
bees, such as their size, hairiness and foraging behaviour, suggest
that they pollinate flowers more efficiently than other insects.
UK bees include the honeybee, about 20 bumblebee species and more
than 200 solitary bee species. Honeybees are intensively managed,
whereas bumblebees and solitary bees are wild and unmanaged.
9. Honeybees are often cited as the most important
crop pollinators, but the role of wild bees is becoming increasingly
apparent to researchers. Honeybees are a practical solution to
pollinating intensively farmed crops, because they can be reliably
managed to be available when crops are in bloom, but wild bees
may be more effective on particular crops. In apple orchards,
for example, research indicates that 600 solitary bees can pollinate
as well as two hives containing 30,000 honeybees.
A study of British oilseed rape fields found that bumblebees were
twice as abundant as honeybees, and wild bees may also act synergistically
with managed bees to increase pollination and crop yield.
It is difficult meaningfully to measure the UK's honeybee population,
because it is largely a function of the number of hives maintained
10. Attention has recently been drawn to pollinator
health by the unusually high mortality rates of managed honeybees
in the USA and Europe.
Similar trends in other countries have contributed to claims of
a global pollination crisis, although the data are limited for
species other than honeybees. The decline in the well-being of
honeybees has been linked to a range of factors including pests
and diseases such as the Varroa mite, poor nutrition, urbanisation,
agricultural intensification, habitat degradation, poor husbandry
by beekeepers and climate change, as well as to pesticides and
the misapplication of pesticides.
11. In the UK, the overall abundance of wild pollinators
has decreased in the countryside since the 1970s, and certain
species have declined dramatically.
Buglife told us:
As a rule of thumb, two-thirds of the species of
pollinator are declining. Where we have the data, that is the
situationtwo-thirds are declining. So, 66% of larger moth
species in the countryside, including things like the Hedge Rustic,
are declining. Most of the bumblebees are declining and six species
have declined by at least 80% in recent years. Where change is
detectable in the data, 66% of hoverflies are declining, 71% of
butterfly species are declining.
Similarly, Dr Lynn Dicks of Cambridge University
It looks like about two thirds to three quarters
of species are declining, and a good proportion of those species
are declining by more than 30% every 10 years. So, for moths,
two thirds of species are declining and 21% have declined by more
than 30% in 10 years and that is of the widespread common species.
For butterflies, it is a similar picture: 72% of the species are
declining and more than half of them have declined in their distribution.
12. Wild pollinator species conduct 90% of pollination
in the UK. Buglife
told us that "70 Government scientists are researching the
health and populations of honeybees and part of one person is
looking at the health of wild bees."
Dr Dicks made the same point:
Defra does have a bee unit that has quite a lot of
staff, so they are spending quite a bit of money on monitoring
bees. It is a very good monitoring scheme; there is quite a lot
of scientific investigation into honeybees, and it is only for
honeybees almost entirely. So there is money; it is just somebody
has decided and continues to decide that we are only interested
in looking at honeybees.
Professor Dave Goulson of Stirling University highlighted
the limited data that are available to policy makers and regulators
on wild bees and other pollinators:
For bumblebees, we don't have numbers, so we can't
tell you what the population is or how it's changed in the last
10 years or 100 years. Sadly, all we can do is look at range declines.
What we can say is of the 25 UK bumblebee species, two or threeit's
a moot point as to whether it's two or threehave gone extinct
and probably 10 species have undergone very large range decline.
available evidence indicates that wild insect pollinators, such
as hoverflies, moths, midges, butterflies and wild bees, are experiencing
serious population declines, but there is insufficient data to
be precise about the extent of such declines due to inadequate
monitoring. Defra must introduce a national monitoring programme
to generate and monitor population data on a broad range of wild
insect pollinator species to inform policy making.
Neonicotinoids and UK agriculture
14. The Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA)
Pesticide Usage Survey found that the total amount of agricultural
land treated with pesticides in 2011 (5,974,000 hectares) was
similar to the area treated in 1991 (5,991,000 hectares). Over
that period, the total weight of pesticides applied more than
halved, falling from 1,024,000 kg to 437,000 kg, due to improvements
in the effectiveness of active ingredients and in application
That decrease encompassed a significant drop in the use of pesticide
sprays (from 965,000 kg in 1991 to 356,000 kg in 2011) and a smaller
increase in use of systemic seed treatments (from 58,000 kg to
15. The range of active ingredients available to
farmers in the EU has decreased significantly in the past 20 years.
This decrease was driven by the introduction in 1993 of EU Directive
91/414, which developed the regulatory framework for pesticide
registration. The number of active ingredients available for use
in the EU fell from some 900 in 2001 to approximately 230 in 2009.
16. Five neonicotinoids are currently approved for
professional use in the UK, namely acetamiprid, clothianidin,
imidacloprid, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam (TMX). Dr James Cresswell
of Exeter University told us how those substances fall into two
These five chemicals fall into two groups based on
their chemical structure. You have thiamethoxam, imidacloprid
and clothianidin in one group. You have acetamiprid and thiacloprid
in the other group. That second group are probably one to two
orders of magnitude less toxic than the other three, so immediately
you cannot put all neonicotinoids under one label on how they
will behave. In our lab, even among the threeimidacloprid,
thiamethoxam, clothianidinwe are finding small but biologically
interesting qualitative differences in how bees respond to those
different chemicals. So some generalisation is possible, but in
the details not so.
17. Neonicotinoids are widely used in the UK on oilseed
rape, cereals, maize, sugar beet and crops grown in glasshouses.
Neonicotinoids are often applied as seed treatments, which involves
coating seed with a neonicotinoid insecticide in a warehouse.
They are systemic, so following seed treatment, the neonicotinoid
is absorbed and transported throughout the plant, which improves
pest control efficiency and limits the requirement to apply subsequent
18. FERA records the extent of the use of all pesticides
in the UK (Figure 1).
The FERA data show the relatively
smaller scale of thiacloprid and acetamiprid use compared with
imidacloprid, clothianidin and TMX. The
ACP told us that "the use of
imidacloprid in the UK is declining very rapidly indeed. It is
being replaced by another neonic, clothianidin."
Bayer CropScience also stated that the application of imidacloprid
is declining "very rapidly indeed".
The FERA data partially confirm those observations, although imidacloprid
was still applied to some 190,000 hectares of crops in 2011.
1 Q 3; Insect Pollination, POSTnote 348, Parliamentary
Office of Science and Technology, January 2010; Ev w30, w38 Back
Q 3 Back
Ev 197 Back
Journal, Draft Back
Environmental Audit Committee, Eleventh Report of Session 2010-12,
Sustainable Food, , HC 879 Back
K. S. Delaplane and D. F. Mayer, Crop Pollination by Bees
(Cambridge, 2000) Back
P. Kumar (Ed.), The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity
(London, 2010), Ch. 2 Back
There are currently around 28,000 beekeepers in England and Wales
who manage around 138,000 colonies. Some 300 bee farmers own and
manage approximately 40% of those colonies (Defra, Improving
honeybee health, January 2013, para 23) Back
Insect Pollination, POSTnote 348, Parliamentary Office
of Science and Technology, January 2010 Back
Ibid; The Varroa mite only affects honeybees and therefore
cannot be responsible for overall pollinator decline. Back
Q 3 Back
Q 91 Back
Q 3 Back
Q 6 Back
Q 95 Back
Q 92 Back
The active ingredient is the chemical in a pesticide product that
kills, controls or repels pests. Back
Ev 137 Back
Ev 138 Back
Q 149 Back
Ev 138 Back
FERA, Pesticide Usage Survey Back
Q 317 Back
Q 458 Back