Pollinators and Pesticides - Environmental Audit Committee Contents

3  Risk and precaution

Henry, Whitehorn and Gill

41. A growing body of published, peer-reviewed research studies points to an association between neonicotinoids and the health of pollinators. Buglife summarised research on the effect of neonicotinoids on bees and other pollinators published since 2009:

There are 41 studies but eight of them we think are suspect, because of the dose rates being wrong or various experimental errors or foibles. If you take those out of the equation, 94% of the studies are showing impacts on bees, other insects and on the environment. This includes fatalities from dust, for instance. This includes increased disease susceptibility and death. This includes reduced foraging and activity within bees and reduced reproduction, particularly in bumblebees.[68]

Taken together, those scientific studies suggest that low doses of neonicotinoid insecticides can have sub-lethal effects that might cause sufficient disruption to the normal functioning of bees to be a threat at the colony or population level.

42. Three important studies on the effect of neonicotinoids on bees were published in 2012, either immediately before or during our inquiry:

  • The French Henry study found that the non-lethal exposure of honeybees to TMX causes high mortality due to homing failure at levels that could put a colony at risk of collapse. Simulated exposure events on free-ranging, foraging honeybees labelled with a radio-frequency identification tag suggested that homing is impaired by TMX intoxication.[69] This study led the French Government to withdraw the approval for use in France of Syngenta's neonicotinoid pesticide Cruiser on oilseed rape.[70]
  • The Whitehorn study entailed exposing colonies of bumblebees in the laboratory to the neonicotinoid imidacloprid, which were then allowed to develop naturally under field conditions. Treated colonies had a significantly reduced growth rate and suffered an 85% reduction in production of new queens compared with control colonies.[71]
  • The Gill study investigated whether exposure to two of the most commonly used pesticides on flowering crops in the UK, the neonicotinoid imidacloprid and the pyrethroid lambda-cyhalothrin, detrimentally affects bumblebee behaviour with knock-on consequences for colony survival.[72]

43. On the significance of the emerging research, Dr Dicks commented:

The existing published evidence about the sub-lethal effects of neonicotinoids on bumblebees (particularly Gill et al 2012; Whitehorn et al 2012) show that serious implications for bumblebee colonies are possible, if they are being exposed in the wider environment at the levels tested. Effects have been measured on reproductive fitness (85% reduction in new queen production) and colony foraging (69% of workers lost over four weeks when exposed to neonicotinoid and pyrethroid combined). Such effects would be unacceptable.[73]

44. Analysis of the Henry, Whitehorn and Gill studies focused on the question of what might be a field-realistic exposure level to neonicotinoids for bees. Dr Cresswell told us:

There is insufficient evidence to establish with high certainty that the residues of neonicotinoid pesticides in nectar and pollen threaten the sustainability of bee populations and the pollination services that they provide to crops and wild plants. But there is sufficient evidence to raise concern about bumblebees. No experiment has demonstrated that neonicotinoids threaten the viability of honeybee colonies when delivered at realistic dietary levels. Experiments that have demonstrated impacts on colonies used unrealistically high dosages.[74]

Syngenta also questioned the dosage of neonicotinoids used in those studies:

All those studies, in common with a number of other studies in the literature implicating pesticides as a particular problem in bee decline, are purporting to be field-realistic when in reality they are laboratory studies, usually using doses that are very unrealistic so that you are actually getting toxic effects on insects from insecticides.[75]

Syngenta's Chairman, Martin Taylor, put it more colourfully in a recent radio interview:

The famous Henry study in France last year, which began all this fuss really, gave the bees something like 10 to 30 times the dose they get in nature and found that they had difficulty navigating home. I think I would have difficulty navigating home if I drank 20 bottles of wine.[76]

45. Bayer CropScience criticised the nature of the Whitehorn study:

When you first looked at the headline that came out of there it suggested that this was a field study. In reality it wasn't, it was a laboratory study in which essentially insects were force-fed high levels of neonicotinoids and then given some chance to be outside. It is very different from how a bumblebee would normally be and therefore it is very difficult to see how you come to a conclusion that as a result of this study there is clearly a problem.[77]

On the other hand, Professor Goulson, who participated in the Whitehorn study, told us:

The concentrations we used were taken from a published scientific study—one of the few that is in the public domain—that had measured levels of imidacloprid in oilseed rape nectar and pollen, and we precisely copied the published levels and fed that to the bees. So the concentrations were perfectly realistic from what we know of what is found in oilseed rape. There is a valid criticism of our study, which is that the bees did not have any choice but to feed on the treated food. So we exposed them for two weeks in their nests to treated pollen and nectar or untreated pollen and sugar water. During that period they did not have the option to feed on something else, whereas obviously in the real world if a nest is close to an oilseed rape field the bees could choose, some of them or all of them, not to feed on the rape. My guess is that that is not the case because they seem to love it. To try and balance that off, we exposed them for two weeks. In actual fact, a nest near a rape field would be exposed for four or five weeks because that is how long it flowers for. So on the one hand we may have exaggerated the effect by not allowing the bees the choice of feeding on something else, but on the other hand, we only exposed them for two weeks as opposed to four or five. How those two things balance up is anyone's guess, but it was the best experiment we could come up with in a world where there are not control sites. The reason we didn't do it outside is because there was nowhere where we could put nests where they would not be exposed to neonicotinoids if they were free flying.[78]

Defra's response to the emerging evidence

46. Defra stated in September 2012 that "none of the studies give unequivocal evidence that sub-lethal effects with serious implications for colonies are likely to arise from current uses of neonicotinoids."[79] Nevertheless, it was sufficiently concerned to commission FERA to conduct field studies to test the laboratory research:

Further research will be carried out to fill identified evidence gaps, including the questions raised about the relevance of the recent studies to field conditions. The Government has already put new research in place to explore further the impacts of neonicotinoids on bumblebees in field conditions and to understand what levels of pesticide residues and disease in bees are normal.[80]

47. In December, Defra's chief scientific adviser, Professor Ian Boyd, told us, "We have commissioned a number of studies to try to get to the bottom of the problem."[81] "The key piece of research is the bumblebee study in as realistic field conditions as possible".[82] That approach was endorsed by the ACP, which told us that the FERA research would provide "conclusive evidence one way or the other."[83] FERA's field studies underpinned recent Defra policy on neonicotinoids in the UK and Europe. For example, Defra Secretary of State Owen Paterson MP told the NFU Annual Conference in February 2013 that he had "asked the [European] Commission to consider all the evidence and to wait for the results of our field trials, rather than rushing to a decision based on lab tests alone."[84]

48. In January 2013, the ACP considered the results of FERA's bumblebee study. The minutes of that meeting stated:

This study was presented to the committee and the findings discussed with the invited experts. It was concluded that the study was very difficult to interpret as there was exposure of bumblebees to neonicotinoid insecticides recorded at all three sites including the control where the oilseed rape crop had been grown from untreated seed.[85]

When we subsequently discussed the inconclusive results of the FERA research with Professor Boyd, he pointed out that "this is the nature of field studies, unfortunately. You cannot control for everything."[86]

49. Defra supplied us with a note on the FERA bumblebee field study which revealed a number of apparently fundamental flaws in execution.[87] First, the bumblebees that were exposed to the neonicotinoid imidacloprid were placed outside two weeks after the control group and the unexposed bees, which introduced seasonal variables into the experiment. Secondly, the bees that were exposed to imidacloprid had a lower starting mass than the other two groups, which might have skewed the final result given that the mass of bee colonies increases exponentially. Finally, the neonicotinoid TMX, which was not part of the experiment, was the most abundant residue in pollen and nectar in the unexposed hives.[88] In other words, the unexposed hives contained higher levels of a neonicotinoid that was not part of the experiment than the hives that were deliberately exposed to imidacloprid; an example of the extent to which neonicotinoid insecticides permeate the UK agricultural environment.

50. In November 2012—three months before the results were available for analysis—Dr Dicks presciently pointed out why the FERA bumblebee field study was unlikely to be conclusive:

It is described as an edge-of-field study and it seems very likely to me to have one-hectare treatment plots with bumblebee colonies on the side of those treatment plots. One hectare is 100 metres by 100 metres, and I said in my written evidence we have some experimental research showing that bumblebees actually prefer to forage further than 100 metres away from their colony, so they are not likely to feed on that rape that is treated that they are on the edge of; they are much more likely to fly over it. The foraging range of the species they are likely to use, which is Bombus terrestris, the buff tailed bumblebee, is probably between one and a half and three kilometres by evidence from recent studies. So they are not going to be feeding on the treated rape in the study.[89]

Dr Dicks also told us that the degree of scientific certainty required by Defra as a basis for action would require a 10-year research project costing around £20 million.[90]

51. The Henry, Whitehorn and Gill laboratory studies raised serious concerns about the potential effect of neonicotinoid insecticides on bees. While laboratory studies should as far as possible replicate field conditions, they cannot by their nature do so precisely. One of their virtues, however, is that they take place in controlled conditions. The FERA bumblebee study, which Defra commissioned to test the conclusions of the laboratory studies in the field, was, we conclude, fundamentally flawed because the bees were placed outside on different dates, some colonies had a lower starting mass than others and a different neonicotinoid from the one used in the study was present in the 'unexposed' hives. The FERA bumblebee study is not therefore a compelling basis for inaction.

52. The ACP, which provides Ministers with expert advice on pesticides, shifted its position on the effect of neonicotinoids on bees in the course of our inquiry. In November 2012, the ACP told us that laboratory studies "have not established convincingly that the exposures employed experimentally are likely to occur in nature."[91] In February 2013, however, following EFSA's revised risk assessments which we discuss below, it concluded:

Whilst there is no single piece of evidence clearly identifying a significant adverse effect of neonicotinoid insecticides on bee species in the UK, the accumulation of information does not rule out the possibility that there might be effects occurring to bees in the field in the UK, and much of this new information points in the direction of potential adverse effects.[92]

EFSA revised risk assessments

53. In April 2012, the European Commission asked EFSA to reassess the risks associated with the use of the neonicotinoid insecticides clothianidin, imidacloprid and TMX with particular regard to their acute and chronic effects on bee colony survival and development, their effects on bee larvae and bee behaviour, and the risks posed by sub-lethal doses of the three substances. EFSA published its revised risk assessments in January 2013. The risk assessments focused on three main routes by which bees are exposed to neonicotinoids: exposure from residues in nectar and pollen in the flowers of treated plants; exposure from dust produced during the sowing of treated seeds or application of granules; and exposure from residues in guttation fluid produced by treated plants.[93] EFSA produced its risk assessments by evaluating the studies submitted for the approval of the active substances at EU level, the authorisations of plant protection products at Member State level, relevant scientific literature and monitoring data recorded at national level.

54. EFSA conducted its assessments in line with its Scientific Opinion on the risk assessment of plant protection products in relation to bees, which it had published in May 2012. This Opinion proposed a more comprehensive risk assessment for bees, including sub-lethal effects, and a higher level of scrutiny for the interpretation of pesticide field studies. Member States are yet to agree this Opinion.[94] In its revised risk assessments, EFSA judged the available evidence against a higher standard of environmental protection for honeybees than had previously been applied, derived from its Opinion. Bayer CropScience commented: "In the case of EFSA's proposed guidance for insecticides … the [knowledge] gaps are very big … We have estimated that 96% of all pesticides, whether it is an insecticide or otherwise, would fail on that knowledge gap."[95]

55. Although the European Commission tasked EFSA with assessing the effect of all neonicotinoids on pollinators, EFSA conducted risk assessments on imidacloprid, clothianidin and TMX rather than on all five substances. When we asked Herman Fontier, Head of Pesticides at EFSA, why EFSA had not risk assessed thiacloprid and acetamiprid, he replied:

In the first instance, we had been mandated by the Commission to look into these as well, but then, because the task was just too much for us, the Commission said, "Forget for the time being about acetamiprid and thiacloprid." Why? Because they are much less toxic to bees. It is a factor of 1,000. It is a huge difference.[96]

56. EFSA drew the following conclusions on the three neonicotinoids (imidacloprid, clothianidin and TMX) which it risk assessed:

Exposure from pollen and nectar. Only uses on crops not attractive to honeybees were considered acceptable.

Exposure from dust. A risk to honeybees was indicated or could not be excluded, with some exceptions, such as use on sugar beet and crops planted in glasshouses, and for the use of some granules.

Exposure from guttation. The only risk assessment that could be completed was for maize treated with thiamethoxam. In this case, field studies show an acute effect on honeybees exposed to the substance through guttation fluid.[97]

EFSA categorises asparagus, cotton, maize (corn), oilseed rape, sunflower, pumpkin and linseed (flax) as crops that are attractive to bees.[98] This assessment therefore excludes wheat, barley, sugar beet and oats, along with many other crops.

57. EFSA does not make recommendations; it conducts risk assessments.[99] The European Commission judges how to manage any risks identified by EFSA. In that light, Defra Minister Lord de Mauley queried the use of the word "acceptable" in the EFSA press release summing up the revised risk assessments.[100] In fact, in its pesticide peer reviews—the primary source—EFSA identified the following "concerns" in relation to imidacloprid, clothianidin and TMX. On imidacloprid, EFSA concluded:

Several issues that could not be finalised were identified in relation to the exposure of honeybees via dust, from consumption of contaminated nectar and pollen, and from exposure via guttation fluid. In addition, the risk to pollinators other than honeybees, the risk from residues in insect honey dew, and the risk from exposure to residues in succeeding crops could not be finalised … A high acute risk to honeybees was identified from exposure via dust drift for the authorised uses in cereals, cotton, maize and oilseed rape. A high acute risk was also identified for exposure via residues in nectar and/or pollen for the authorised uses in cotton, oilseed rape and sunflowers.[101]

On clothianidin, EFSA concluded:

Several issues that could not be finalised were identified in relation to the exposure of honeybees via dust, from consumption of contaminated nectar and pollen, and from residues in exposure via guttation fluid. In addition, the risk to pollinators other than honeybees, the risk from insect honey dew, and the risk from exposure to residues in succeeding crops could not be finalised … A high acute risk to honeybees was identified from exposure via dust drift for the seed treatment uses in maize, oilseed rape and cereals. A high acute risk was also identified from exposure via residues in nectar and/or pollen for the uses in oilseed rape.[102]

On TMX, EFSA concluded:

Several issues that could not be finalised were identified in relation to the exposure of honeybees via dust, from consumption of contaminated nectar and pollen, and from exposure via guttation fluid. In addition, the risk to pollinators other than honeybees, the risk from residues in insect honey dew, and the risk from exposure to residues in succeeding crops could not be finalised … A high acute risk to honeybees was identified from exposure via dust drift for the authorised uses in cereals, cotton, oilseed rape (except for uses with the lowest application rate authorised in the EU) and maize. A high acute risk was also identified for exposure via guttation fluid for the authorised uses in maize.[103]

58. EFSA's risk assessments were not comprehensive. In some cases, EFSA was "unable to finalise the assessments due to shortcomings in the available data."[104] Those shortcomings were largely due to the new, higher standard of environmental protection for bees applied in these risk assessments, which has rendered inadequate the data generated by many of the original field trials on which approvals were based.[105] Under the current EU pesticides approval regime, the European Commission is responsible for managing the risk where EFSA is unable to finalise its assessments due to insufficient data.

59. EFSA found that dust drift posed "a high acute risk" to honeybees in the cases of all three neonicotinoids that it risk assessed. We heard that this observation might not apply to the UK. In Italy, the suspension of imidacloprid, TMX and clothianidin as maize treatments was driven by the discovery that dead bees had been in direct contact with airborne contaminated dust generated during the drilling of treated seed. Dust from abraded seed coatings was found to contain 20% neonicotinoid content, which was more than 2,000 times the dosage in spray treatments.[106] Improving the seed treatment process and modifying the drilling equipment were proposed as ways to reduce that exposure route.[107]

60. The NFU told us that "the standards of agricultural practice in the use of pesticides in the UK are among the highest in Europe".[108] It also pointed out that "careful stewardship of all pesticide-treated seed is undertaken by the industry. This includes improving seed applications to reduce risks of pesticide dusts, and by encouraging operator care to avoid seed spills and ensure seeds are properly buried when drilled."[109] Defra set out how it believed that the risks associated with contaminated dust do not apply in the UK:

The suspensions in Germany, Italy and Slovenia followed particular incidents in which poor practice in treating and sowing seed led to bee kills due to the creation of excessive dust contaminated with neonicotinoids. Our assessment is that the risk of similar incidents in the UK is negligible. There are several reasons for that conclusion. First, the dose rates used in the seed treatment in Germany were almost double those which would be used in the UK. Second, the problems related to maize and drilling was taking place at an unusual time of year when adjacent crops were in flower. Third, seed treatments in the UK are carried out by professional contractors, which minimises the risk of a sticker not being applied (stickers help the pesticide adhere to the treated surface). Fourth, drilling equipment in the UK is either built differently or has been adapted so that it directs dust towards the ground, thus minimising the risk of drift.[110]

Similarly, Bayer CropScience and Syngenta highlighted the safeguards in UK agricultural equipment and the application of 'stickers'.[111]

Precautionary principle

61. The 1992 United Nations Rio Declaration stated:

In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.[112]

This statement was adopted by the European Commission in the Lisbon Treaty:

Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.[113]

Although the EU has never adopted a comprehensive definition of the precautionary principle, it nevertheless informs not only EU environmental policy, but EU laws on food, consumer protection, trade, research, and technological development.

62. Several witnesses told us that Defra "is not taking a sufficiently precautionary approach."[114] Defra's September 2012 document, Neonicotinoid insecticides and bees: The state of the science and the regulatory response, did not include the words "precaution" or "precautionary principle". Instead, it justified its policy on the basis that none of the recent studies (paragraph 41) provided "unequivocal" evidence of serious implications for bee colonies, which might be taken as the opposite of the precautionary principle.[115] When we put this to Lord de Mauley, he told us:

Let me be very clear that Defra fully accepts that the precautionary principle applies to decisions on the regulation of pesticides.[116]

I fully accept that the use of the word "unequivocal" was inappropriate. We are not seeking unequivocal evidence, and recognise that scientific studies can never meet such a test. The reality is that we do consider the weight of evidence and, at present, the evidence suggests that the effects do not occur in the field.[117]

63. Defra's position on applying the precautionary principle contrasts with that in other European countries. The Pesticide Action Network told us:

Whilst Defra have clearly decided that no action needs to be taken in the short term, the French regulatory authorities have taken a different view and have, for some years, instituted further controls and restrictions on some neonicotinoids. Following the publication of the Henry et al and Whitehorn et al studies, in March this year, the French suspended the approval for the use of thiamethoxam for oilseed rape seed treatments in June 2012. We do not understand why Defra came to a different conclusion, particularly as the cropping systems for OSR [oilseed rape] are similar in both countries. The Italian authorities, and to some extent, the German authorities have also adopted different approaches to the UK in regard to suspensions.[118]

64. EU Regulation on plant protection products states that "the objective of protecting human and animal health and the environment should take priority over the objective of improving plant production."[119] However, Defra linked economic factors to the application of the precautionary principle. Lord de Mauley told us, "We have put the case for a proportionate and evidence-based approach to this whole issue. On the one hand, there are important issues about the protection of pollinators and, on the other, there are real economic concerns."[120]

65. In 2012, nearly all oilseed rape sown in the UK was seed treated with a neonicotinoid insecticide.[121] Oilseed rape has recently become an important crop for UK arable farmers, driven in part by the increase in commodity prices in recent years. Previously grown as a break crop to help control pests and diseases in cereals, it now provides a similar output to wheat. Oilseed rape suffers from pests and diseases, such as the peach-potato aphid and the flea beetle. An agronomist, Peter Riley of Prime Agriculture, told us:

As advisers I guess we have been led, in the past, towards seed treatments on account of the much lower levels of active ingredient used. In the case of neonicotinoids, it has made a huge difference, particularly in something like oilseed rape, which means that we get a much more consistent establishment of crop. Generally, the industry now uses something like probably a third of the seed that we were using 10 years ago.[122]

66. We asked our agronomist witnesses whether a hypothetical moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides would render it impossible to farm certain crops in the UK. Peter Riley told us:

I am not necessarily suggesting that it would become uneconomical, but it would have a profound effect on the average margin that a farmer would have. I simply don't know exactly what the full ramifications were, but I could imagine it could be quite difficult for farmers certainly.[123]

Chris Bean of Agrii added:

It is the sort of question that you can't give an exact answer to because things will differ from year to year … It is not necessarily every field on the farm, but some fields would be badly affected. For those that were badly affected prior to the development of the seed treatments it was a case of re-drilling or giving up on the oilseed rape and putting some winter wheat in or something instead. That is a significant drain on a farmer's resources … Certainly, trials that we have done, trials that the manufacturers of the seed treatments have done have suggested anything from a 10% to 25% yield loss as a result of virus damage to the crop … In sugar beet, I would imagine it is far more damaging than that.[124]

67. On the other hand, the Pesticide Action Network pointed out:

If you look at the example of Italy, where they have banned certain seed dressings on maize crops, not using them has not led to any increase in pest or disease problems. It has also not resulted in any kind of loss of yield or profitability to the people growing the maize.[125]

The Soil Association also referred to the Italian example:

After the restrictions on neonicotinoids came in, they did some detailed studies on the yield and found that overall there was no negative effect. Even in terms of the affected maize plants, they found that only 10% were affected by any of the major soil dwelling pests. There was no overall impact on production levels and less than 3% of sample fields were affected.[126]

68. The Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture estimated the economic worth of neonicotinoid seed treatments in the European Union.[127] It concluded that "over a five-year period, the EU could lose €17 billion and more; 50,000 jobs could get lost economy-wide; and more than a million people engaged in arable production and their livelihoods would certainly suffer".[128] That analysis was predicated on a total ban on all neonicotinoid pesticides on all crops and is not congruent with either the evidence we heard from agronomists or the Italian experience of farming maize without neonicotinoids. In addition, the Humboldt Forum analysis did not take into account the agricultural and economic value of pollinators, which we explore in Part 4. Neonicotinoid pesticides are not fundamental to the general economic or agricultural viability of UK farming, although there may be specific issues in relation to oilseed rape that might require careful management if neonicotinoids were not available to growers.

69. Defra policy on pesticides must be evidence-based. Where the available scientific evidence is either incomplete or contradictory, Defra must apply the precautionary principle rather than maintaining the status quo while waiting for further evidence. Defra policy in relation to neonicotinoids is not currently founded on the precautionary principle as set out in the 1992 United Nations Rio Declaration and the Lisbon Treaty, in that Defra will not countenance imposing a moratorium if it would not be "proportionate". Ministers currently consider that a decision on a moratorium should be informed by potential economic impacts as well as by clearer proof about harm to bees than is currently available or is likely to be produced in the near future. We recognise the agricultural value of neonicotinoid insecticides, but economic factors should not blur environmental risk assessment and risk management, where the protection of people and the environment must be paramount. Defra must review how it exercises the precautionary principle. Economic considerations should not form part of environmental risk management decision making, but rather should be a function of a distinct and transparent subsequent political process.

European Commission

70. Following EFSA's revised risk assessments, the European Commission exercised its risk management function by introducing an Amending Regulation to alter the conditions of approval for use of imidacloprid, clothianidin and TMX in the European Union.[129] This proposal would have introduced a two-year moratorium on the use of the three neonicotinoids on crops that are attractive to bees, with exceptions in the cases of winter cereals (because dust exposure during autumn is not considered a major issue) and of bee-attractive crops grown in greenhouses, and prohibited the sale and use of neonicotinoids to non-professional users (paragraph 82).

71. This proposal was subject to a qualified majority vote of Member States on 15 March 2013, when no qualified majority was reached either in favour or against the proposal. Although the European Commission does not publicise how Member States voted, Defra set out why the UK abstained:

Bee health is extremely important but decisions must be based on sound scientific evidence and rushing this through could have serious unintended consequences both for bees and for food production. We are not opposing the EU's proposals. We have been clear all along that we want any decision on neonicotinoids to be based on science. We are currently finalising studies that will give us the evidence on which to base a proper decision. But as we do not have the evidence yet it is impossible for us to vote either way. There are seven other member states we expect to abstain along with us and we expect nine countries to oppose the Commission's proposals as they currently stand.[130]

72. Defra cited the need to analyse the FERA research studies as a factor in its decision to abstain (paragraph 46). The inconclusive outcome of the 15 March vote allows the European Commission the option of appealing the decision, which would lead to a further vote of Member States, or revising and reintroducing the proposal.


73. Under the EU Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides, which was transposed into UK law by the Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012, the UK was obliged to establish an action plan to promote the sustainable use of pesticides.[131] Member States were required to develop and submit national action plans to the European Commission "by 14 December 2012".[132] Defra published the UK National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides on 26 February 2013. When we asked Defra Minister Lord de Mauley why the publication of the UK plan was delayed, he stated that "It is purely the process of giving due consideration to the responses to the consultation."[133] However, Lord de Mauley's officials were unable to point to a substantive difference between the draft consultative action plan and the published final action plan. Dave Bench, Director of Science, Engineering, Analysis and Chemicals Regulation at the Health and Safety Executive, explained: "In terms of substantive content, is there anything radically different in this draft to what we would have had in draft prior to the Christmas period? No, there is not anything radically different."[134] Dave Bench was, however, unwilling to accept the contention that the consultation might not have been "effective".[135]

74. On the content of the UK plan, the pesticides directive stipulated that "Member States shall adopt National Action Plans to set up their quantitative objectives, targets, measures and timetables to reduce risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment."[136] Dave Bench told us, "Our position has been for some time that we are not in favour of quantitative reduction targets of that kind of nature because they are generally fairly meaningless."[137] We asked whether the UK plan therefore complied with the directive. Dave Bench replied, "Now we believe, and have checked with our lawyers, that what we have put into the National Action Plan—which of course is intended to be an ongoing, developing document; not static—is compliant with the requirements of the directive."[138] That it was necessary to take legal advice whether the UK National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides complied with the minimum requirements of the EU directive suggests that the UK failed to take this opportunity to address pesticide use to benefit human health and the environment. It is difficult to see how pesticide use will change without the implementation of the objectives, timetables, measures and targets that officials dismissed as "meaningless".

75. The pesticides directive also stated that action plans should "encourage the development and introduction of integrated pest management."[139] The published UK plan stated that "this part of the UK National Action Plan will be developed over the coming months … We will consider what more might be done to help and encourage users in this area."[140] Professor Potts underlined the merit of the objective set out in the directive:

What we need, in my opinion, is a longer-term phased reduction in all pesticides, not just neonicotinoids, and increasing uptake of more IPM [integrated pest management] strategies, things like biocontrol, better crop management and so on. A lot of those tools are out there and if we are going to get co-benefits of good production, food security and good environmental quality, then we need to be a lot smarter about the way we intensively farm.[141]

76. Integrated pest management (IPM) is a broad approach to plant protection that discourages the development of populations of harmful organisms, keeps the use of pesticides and other forms of intervention to levels that are economically and ecologically justified and reduces or minimises risks to human health and the environment. IPM emphasises the growth of a healthy crop with the least possible disruption to ecosystems and encourages natural pest control mechanisms. Many UK farmers already utilise practices which are in line with IPM principles, particularly due to the requirements of farm assurance schemes, retailer requirements or other national or international production standards.

77. Seed treatments entail the application of pesticides before the onset and extent of any pest population can be known. Some have argued that such prophylactic seed treatment is often unnecessary and therefore inconsistent with the principles of IPM. The Pesticide Action Network pointed out:

It is impossible for a farmer to buy non-seed-treated oilseed rape seed, so 100% of the oilseed rape in this country is grown with a systemic pesticide in it. There is no indication whether any of that is dealing with any kind of real-life pest threat whatsoever. It is simply an insurance policy.[142]

The Soil Association told us:

There is a wide range of pest-control alternatives to the use of pesticides for insect control. Many crop pest species have natural predators (e.g. ladybirds for aphids) or parasites (e.g. nematodes for slugs and snails). These can be deliberately introduced to a crop or encouraged by providing suitable habitat (e.g. rough, unfarmed areas around fields). Often natural predators get removed from the system by pesticides, either directly or through dramatic reduction in prey, resulting in die-off of the predators and subsequently disrupting ecosystems by adversely affecting food webs. Therefore reducing pesticide usage and encouraging natural predators can help control pest species as well as improving the health of the whole ecosystem.[143]

78. We asked Lord de Mauley to explain his view on IPM:

We are pursuing integrated pest management with great keenness. In fact, pesticide users are going to be required to use it from 1 January 2014, and all pesticide users soon will be required to be trained in it, it includes integrated approaches. Of course, many farmers and growers already are familiar with IPM and adopt practices in line with it, but it is certainly something that we are extremely focused on.[144]

Professor Boyd added, "Integrated pest management is the future. We have to move in that direction and we have to move as quickly as possible."[145] The promotion of IPM principles is a key feature of the EU Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides, and Member States are required to implement the provisions on IPM by 1 January 2014.[146]

79. The NFU raised the possibility that the alternatives to neonicotinoids might be more environmentally harmful than neonicotinoids themselves.[147] Similarly, Bayer CropScience argued, "What is the consequence of a loss of neonicotinoids? Farmers will have to go back to the old way of doing things."[148] If the IPM component of the EU Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides is implemented effectively in the UK, farmers will be informed and incentivised to make choices other than "the old way of doing things".

80. In the interests of the environment, food security, minimising resistance among pests and maximising agricultural incomes, it is desirable that the minimal possible amount of chemical pesticides is used in agricultural production. This means moving away from any excessive use of chemical pesticides and utilising integrated pest management. Such an approach would prevent any ban on neonicotinoids necessarily causing the increased use of potentially more harmful substances. Defra must develop the UK National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides in line with both the spirit and the requirements of the European Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides. To that end, Defra should prioritise the development of the action plan in its business plan and accordingly provide an appropriate level of resource. The UK plan should include quantitative objectives, targets, measures, timetables and indicators, as stipulated by the directive. The promotion of integrated pest management principles is a key feature of the EU Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides, and Member States are required to implement the provisions on IPM by 1 January 2014. Defra should introduce clear incentives for farmers to drive take up of IPM.

81. Defra should prepare to introduce a moratorium in the UK on the use of imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam on crops that are attractive to bees by 1 January 2014, and support such a proposal in the EU.

Private gardens and amenities

82. Many of the UK's largest home improvement retailers and garden centres, including Notcutts, Hillier, Squires, Blue Diamond, SCATS Countrystores, B&Q, Wickes and Homebase, have implemented the precautionary principle by voluntarily withdrawing plant protection products for non-professional use that contain neonicotinoids from their stores.[149] Trained and licensed contractors apply neonicotinoids in the agricultural industry, which is important because neonicotinoids are lethal to pollinators if they are incorrectly applied when plants are blooming. Lord de Mauley was confident that the current regulations for amateur use provided sufficient safeguards for insect pollinators: "The products for use in gardens have very clear instructions for use."[150]

83. Throughout our inquiry, Defra repeatedly stressed the need to apply the precautionary principle in a "proportionate" fashion given the economic and agricultural value of neonicotinoids.[151] This argument does not appear to apply to private gardens and amenities such as golf courses. Furthermore, the suspension of neonicotinoids for public use could create an urban safe haven for pollinators, which might facilitate future field studies without the problems of neonicotinoid contamination experienced in the FERA field study of bumblebees (paragraph 46). In addition, Professor Graham Stone of Edinburgh University told us that "the potential exists for cities to become net exporters of pollinators. They can't do that if they [pollinators]are being killed in gardens".[152]

84. There is no compelling economic or agricultural case for neonicotinoid use in private gardens and on amenities such as golf courses, which provides Defra with an opportunity to exercise its stated commitment to the precautionary principle. Defra must immediately withdraw the approvals for use in the UK of neonicotinoid pesticides marketed for amateur application in private gardens and on amenities in order to create neonicotinoid-free zones for pollinators in non-agricultural areas.

68   Q 26 Back

69   Mickaël Henry et al, "A Common Pesticide Decreases Foraging Success and Survival in Honey Bees", Science, vol 336 (2012), pp 347--350 Back

70   Ev 154 Back

71   Penelope R. Whitehorn, Stephanie O'Connor, Felix L. Wackers, Dave Goulson, "Neonicotinoid Pesticide Reduces Bumble Bee Colony Growth and Queen Production", Science, vol 336 (2012), pp 351-352 Back

72   R. J. Gill, O. Ramos-Rodriguez and N. E. Raine, "Combined pesticide exposure severely affects individual and colony-level traits in bees", Nature, vol 491 (2012) Back

73   Ev 160 Back

74   Ev 149 Back

75   Q 156 Back

76   Radio 4, "Today", 8 February 2013 Back

77   Q 156 Back

78   Q 126 Back

79   Defra, Neonicotinoid insecticides and bees: The state of the science and the regulatory response, September 2012, para 2 Back

80   Ev 199 Back

81   Q 343 Back

82   Q 345 Back

83   Q 258 Back

84   "Owen Paterson speech at the National Farmers Union Annual Conference", Defra online, February 2013, www.defra.gov.uk Back

85   Advisory Committee on Pesticides, "Minutes of the 359th meeting", January 2013 Back

86   Q 621 Back

87   Ev 250 Back

88   Ibid. Back

89   Q 123 Back

90   Qq 258-259 Back

91   Ev 223 Back

92   Ev 252 Back

93   Guttation is the process by which some plants exude sap in droplets that resemble dew. Back

94   EFSA,"GuidanceDocumentontheRiskAssessmentofPlantProtectionProductsonBees",Draft Back

95   Q 384 Back

96   Q 519 Back

97   "EFSA identifies risk to bees from neonicotinoids", EFSA press release, 16 January 2013 Back

98   EFSA, "Conclusion on the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment for bees for the active substance imidacloprid", EFSA Journal, 2013, p 17 Back

99   Q 513  Back

100   Q 596 Back

101   EFSA, "Conclusion on the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment for bees for the active substance imidacloprid", EFSA Journal, 2013, p 34 Back

102   EFSA, "Conclusion on the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment for bees for the active substance clothianidin", EFSA Journal, 2013, p 37 Back

103   EFSA, "Conclusion on the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment for bees for the active substance thiamethoxam", EFSA Journal, 2013, p 45 Back

104   "EFSA identifies risk to bees from neonicotinoids", EFSA press release, 16 January 2013 Back

105   EFSA, "Conclusion on the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment for bees for the active substance thiamethoxam", EFSA Journal, 2013, p 2 Back

106   Marzaro et al, "Lethal aerial powdering of honey bees with neonicotinoids from fragments of maize seed coat", Bulletin of Insectology, vol 64 (2011), pp 119-126 Back

107   Tapparo et al, "Assessment of the environmental exposure of honeybees to particulate matter containing neonicotinoid insecticides coming from corn coated seeds", Environmental Science and Technology, vol 46 (2012), pp 2592-2599 Back

108   Ev 137 Back

109   Ibid. Back

110   Ev 197 Back

111   Q 170 Back

112   United Nations, Rio Declaration, Principle 15 Back

113   European Union, Lisbon Treaty, Article 191 Back

114   Ev 125, 145-146 Back

115   Defra, Neonicotinoid insecticides and bees: The state of the science and the regulatory response, September 2012, para 2 Back

116   Q 343 Back

117   Q 344 Back

118   Ev 126 Back

119   Council Regulation (EC) No. 1107/2009, Recital 24 Back

120   Q 585 Back

121   Ev 138 Back

122   Q 569 Back

123   Q 572 Back

124   Ibid Back

125   Q 48 Back

126   Q 80 Back

127   Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture, The value of neonicotinoid seed treatment in the European Union, 2013 Back

128   Ibid, p 34 Back

129   Commission Amending Regulation, SANCO/10262/2013 Back

130   "What is the value of bees?", The Guardian, 15 March 2013 Back

131   Council Directive 2009/128/EC Back

132   ibid, Article 4(2) Back

133   Q 351 Back

134   Q 628 Back

135   Q 629 Back

136   Council Directive 2009/128/EC, Article 4(1) Back

137   Q 630 Back

138   Q 636 Back

139   Council Directive 2009/128/EC, Article 4(1) Back

140   Defra, UK National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides, March 2013, para 16.2 Back

141   Q 244 Back

142   Q 48 Back

143   Ev 118 Back

144   Q 667 Back

145   Ibid. Back

146   Ev 205 Back

147   Q 65 Back

148   Q 391 Back

149   "Garden centres weed out insecticides to help save bees", The Guardian, 20 February 2013  Back

150   Q 359 Back

151   Q 649 Back

152   Q 127 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 5 April 2013