A. Introduction to the Government response
1. The need to protect populations of pollinating
insects is an important and pressing issue. The Government is
committed to working in partnership with all interested parties
on this subject. We therefore welcome the work that the Environmental
Audit Committee has done to highlight the issues and to propose
points for action.
2. Our detailed responses to each of the Committee's
conclusions and recommendations are set out in Section B below.
In the rest of this section, we make some more general remarks
about issues raised by the Committee's report.
3. Pollinators make an essential contribution
to the diversity and resilience of wild plant species, habitats
and wildlife in England. Many of our agricultural and horticultural
crops also rely, at least in part, on visits by insect pollinators
to produce seeds and fruits. Declines in populations of bees and
other pollinators may pose risks globally to biodiversity and
to long-term food security.
4. The Government is very much alive to concerns
that our pollinators face declines in diversity and the geographical
ranges of individual species. The causes of these changes appear
to be varied, with no single dominant threat. Intensification
in land-use, habitat loss, pests, diseases, invasive species,
inappropriate use of agrochemicals and climate change are all
thought to be playing a part.
5. The Government already has a range of activities
aimed at benefitting pollinators. These include:
- The Healthy Bees Planworking
with beekeepers to provide training and respond to pest and disease
- Work under the Biodiversity 2020 banner. Objectives
include to have 90% of priority habitats in favourable or recovering
condition and to increase the extent of priority habitats by 200,000
hectares. Defra is providing £7.5 million funding for new
nature improvement areas that deliver habitat restoration across
landscapes for wildlife and people. Much of this will benefit
bees and other pollinators.
- Environmental Stewardshipnew options from
1 January 2013 include legume and herb rich swards, which will
be beneficial to pollinators. Natural England actively helps farmers
to select the most appropriate options to benefit wildlife including
guidance for 'butterflies, bees and vulnerable grassland'. We
are currently examining what new elements might enhance the effectiveness
and quality of existing Environmental Stewardship options, including
those for pollinators, which might be taken forward under the
new Rural Development Programme starting in 2015.
- The £10 million Insect Pollinators Initiative
to help to identify the main threats to
bees and other insect pollinators. This is funded by the Research
Councils, Defra, the Wellcome Trust and the Scottish Government.
6. Despite all this work, there is more that
could and should be done to understand and tackle the issues.
On 28 June, Defra Minister Lord de Mauley therefore announced
the launch of an urgent and comprehensive review of current evidence,
policy and civil society action on pollinators to identify what
needs to be done to integrate and step up our approach. To launch
the review, we published a discussion paper setting out the current
state of evidence and policy on pollinators in England. In all
of this, we must be led by the science. As part of the review
Defra's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Ian Boyd, has therefore
convened a group of independent experts to look at the evidence
on the state of our pollinators.
7. The review will develop a better understanding
of the various factors that can harm pollinators and the changes
that government, other organisations and individuals can make
to help counter their impact. This review will form the basis
of a National Pollinator Strategy, which will bring together existing
initiatives and to provide an umbrella for new action. It will
provide every opportunity for those with an interest to contribute
to the discussion and to commit to bringing their efforts and
talents to the ongoing work. We will ensure full involvement of
academics, NGOs, farmers, local government, businesses and others.
It is important that we work together to build dialogue and to
turn this into action.
8. Pesticides deliver substantial benefits for
society. For example, they help to secure a plentiful and affordable
food supply and protect transport infrastructure and urban environments
from weeds, pests and diseases. However, pesticides also have
the potential to harm people, wildlife and the environment. For
this reason, there is a tough regulatory regime laid down by EU
law to ensure that harm does not occur. The regime is based on
the evaluation of comprehensive scientific data to enable the
assessment of risks. Decisions on active substances are taken
at EU level. Decisions on products containing approved substances
are taken nationally according to common EU rules.
9. The Government fully supports strict safety
regulation based on the scientific assessment of risk. Such regulation
should ensure that harmful effects on human health and unacceptable
effects on the environment do not materialise. However, regulation
should also recognise that the benefits of pesticides justify
the tolerance of a degree of residual risk to the environment.
10. When the EU regime was introduced in 1991,
the number of active substances approved in Member States stood
at slightly over 1,000. Now the EU figure is a little over 400,
despite the introduction of 180 new active substances. In some
cases active substances have failed to meet the regulatory requirements.
More frequently, companies have made a business decision not to
incur the high costs of generating the necessary data for what
may be a relatively niche product. Similarly, even where an active
substance remains approved, the company may opt to support only
the larger-scale uses, where the potential sales will better repay
the costs of regulation.
11. The net result will have been gains for protection
of people and the environment, although the extent of this is
hard to quantify. However, the agricultural industry also reports
increasing concern about the diminishing number of substances
available and the potential impact on crop production. Crop protection
needs must not be allowed to put people or the environment at
unacceptable risk but there is a need to consider the benefits
of further tightening of the regulatory requirements to ensure
that they do not carry high costs for very little or no gain.
PESTICIDES AND POLLINATORS
12. Recent research has raised two issues for
Government. First, it has shown a need, which we fully accept,
to update the EU process for assessing risks to pollinators from
pesticides. This work is being taken forward by the European Food
Safety Authority (EFSA) with active input from UK experts. Our
aim in this is to ensure that the new risk assessment guidance
provides effective protection for pollinator populations without
straying into disproportionately costly regulatory burdens.
13. Second, the research has highlighted the
potential for serious adverse effects from three neonicotinoid
insecticides, as well as a fourth non-neonicotinoid insecticide
(fipronil, which is not authorised in the UK). The Government
made it crystal clear that it took the issue very seriously and
was prepared to take action in the light of all the evidence.
We carefully considered all the scientific evidence on this issue
and commissioned our own research to investigate further some
14. As this work was proceeding, the European
Commission proposed some wide-ranging restrictions on the use
of the three neonicotinoids. We opposed these restrictions because
our assessment was (and remains) that the evidence did not point
to risks to pollinators that would justify the proposed restrictions.
Nevertheless, the Commission have adopted the proposals and we
will implement them in full when they come into effect on 1 December.
The decision includes a review of the restrictions in 2015. We
believe that this should be informed by the best possible science,
including new work to address the shortcomings in the current
evidence. Some of this evidence will fall to industry to provide
in the light of EFSA's revised risk assessment guidance. However,
there is scope for other work to build a rigorous, accessible
and widely-supported evidence base. We are considering what part
the UK Government could usefully play in this work.
B. Detailed response to the Report's conclusions
The 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. (Paragraph 13)
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. (Paragraph 13)
15. We recognise that monitoring to detect changes
in abundance and distribution of insect pollinators accurately
has not been carried out systematically in the UK. However, thanks
to the UK's many expert volunteers, we have some of the best data
on wild bee distribution in the World and this can be used to
make assessments of trends.
16. We agree that it is difficult to be precise
about the extent of any declines in pollinator populations. However,
the data we have shows significant changes in diversity of wild
bees in parts of Britain over the last 50 years. Some areas have
seen an increase in diversity, but significantly more have seen
a decline. Declines in wild bee diversity are likely to be the
result, at least in part, of significant range contractions for
specialist species that are associated with natural or semi-natural
habitat or have narrow forage requirements. Data on abundance
of butterflies and moths over the last 35-40 years indicate that
more species have significantly declined than have significantly
increased. However, the distribution of sampling points for these
species may not fully representative of the wider countryside.
We therefore conclude that there have been serious declines for
some pollinator species or groups of species. We have less certainty
on the nature of change in pollinator populations or pollination
services as a whole.
17. Defra has been exploring ways to support
more systematic approaches to monitor pollinator species, in collaboration
with other organisations such as the Research Councils and voluntary
sector. We have invested in research and development to support
more systematic monitoring of pollinators. In particular we are
looking at how to build on existing expertise within the voluntary
sector to develop more innovative ways to undertake monitoring.
For example, we are funding research to pilot new ways of monitoring
pollinators. This project is a collaboration between the Centre
for Ecology and Hydrology (part of the Natural Environment Research
Centre) and various volunteer recording schemes. The project aims
to develop and test new standardised, repeatable survey methods
that provide representative assessments of change for plants and
pollinating insects within semi-natural habitats.
18. We will explore further how best to measure
future trends in pollinator populations. To this end we are commissioning
a comprehensive review of evidence on pollinators and will be
holding expert workshops in autumn 2013. It is important that
we explore this issue with experts and stakeholders before considering
a new national monitoring programme for wild pollinators.
19. We agree that monitoring is important to
underpin the development of policies. Information from biodiversity
monitoring and surveillance is used extensively to inform policies
such as protected site selection and management. It has also been
used to build indicators to assess progress with Biodiversity
2020, our strategy for wildlife and ecosystem services in
2. PESTICIDE APPROVALS
We agree with Defra that it would be "a good idea"
if pesticide manufacturers were to publish the studies underpinning
applications for pesticide approvals. The agrochemical industry
has produced many studies on the environmental effect of neonicotinoids
and other pesticides, but the data are allegedly confidential
for commercial reasons. The lack of transparency in relation to
trials and studies conducted by pesticide manufacturers has resulted
in inequality between the pesticide industry on one side and academics
and the public on the other. (Paragraph 26)
The agrochemical industry should place the results of its risk
assessment trials in the public domain to inform academic research
and increase transparency for the public. Defra should work with
industry and academics to establish which, if any, genuinely commercially
sensitive details should be redacted to make that possible. (Paragraph
20. We do recognise that there is currently great
interest in the effect of pesticides on bees and real value in
having the key regulatory studies in the public domain. We are
therefore considering how this could best be done. We are pleased
that one of the companies holding authorisations for neonicotinoids,
Syngenta, is in the process of having their honey bee field data
published in a scientific journal.
21. We will consider the coverage of any new
arrangements. Many hundreds of regulatory studies are submitted
to the regulatory authorities every year. Some of the more complex
studies can be hundreds of pages long. Much of this routine regulatory
information will be of limited interest to either academic researchers
or the public and the cost of publishing this information, even
on the internet, would be substantial. However, we recognise that
there will sometimes be greater interest in particular studies,
especially in cases where those studies can inform the interpretation
of academic research or the consideration of future research.
22. It may be helpful to set out the current
arrangements. Under EU legislation, there are two different aspects
to the protection of the information, including studies, submitted
by companies seeking authorisation of pesticides:
(i) some information is confidential and cannot
be made public in any form. This category of information is fairly
narrow. It includes the methods of manufacture of the product
and its precise composition and the names and addresses of people
involved in testing involving vertebrate animals;
(ii) the remaining information is not confidential
but study reports have data protection rights which mean that
they may not be used for the benefit of other applicants for authorisation.
The data protection rules are effective within the EU but there
remains a concern that a company could take another's study, change
a few details and submit it to support an application in another
part of the world. Studies are costly to produce and data protection
is designed to protect this investment for a period. For this
reason, regulatory studies are not published but access to them
can beand has beengranted. Interested parties are
able to read the studies at the offices of the Chemicals Regulation
Directorate. The data may also be accessible through access to
information arrangements such as those under the Freedom of Information
Act and the Environmental Information Regulations. These access
rights to the regulatory studies have been used in respect of
We recognise that it is impractical to conduct individual risk
assessments for the thousands of species of bees, hoverflies,
butterflies, carrion flies, beetles, midges, moths and other invertebrates
that contribute to insect pollination, but we are not convinced
that honeybees are an appropriate proxy for all such species.
We urge Defra to introduce a representative range of sentinel
pollinator species in UK pesticides risk assessments and work
to agree a similar arrangement across the EU. (Paragraph 30)
23. We agree with the Committee's conclusion
that, in the light of the current scientific knowledge, it is
no longer sufficient to use honeybees as the proxy for all insect
pollinators. Equally, it is not possible to conduct experimental
testing and risk assessments for even a small fraction of the
thousands of species.
24. The EU pesticides authorisation process is
harmonised and Member States are required to assess applications
for authorisation in light of 'current scientific and technical
knowledge using guidance documents available at the time of application'.
It is not possible for the UK Government to introduce different
national criteria unless these are justified on the basis of differing
agricultural or environmental circumstances. For pollinators this
is clearly not the case. We therefore have to work within the
25. As the Committee is aware, the European Food
Safety Authority (EFSA) is developing the guidance on assessing
the risks of pesticides to bees. As well as updating the toxic
effects and routes of exposure considered, the new guidance will
cover other bee species as well as honey bees. This is a major
development in the environmental risk assessment and there are
many issues to be addressed to get this right. As a subsequent
step, it would be of value to consider how far the risk assessment
can and should be extended to other insect families. This might
not involve a full range of testing on these other species. It
might be sufficient to have data on relative sensitivities of
species and to take account of factors such as which species are
likely to forage on a particular crop at a particular time.
For Governments, scientists and the public to have confidence
in the EU-wide pesticide approvals regime, data and analysis should
be rigorously scrutinised and quality checked to form a credible
evidence base. The 2006 re-approval of imidacloprid for use in
the EU shows two flaws in the system. First, EFSA identified the
issue of soil accumulation in its peer review, but the European
Commission proceeded to sign off imidacloprid as an approved active
substance for use in Member States without explicitly addressing
that risk. There seems little point in EFSA's assessing risk if
the Commission ignores environmental threats identified in that
process. Secondly, the choice of Germany as the Rapporteur Member
State in the case of a substance developed and manufactured in
Germany raised a potential conflict of interest. (Paragraph 40)
We recommend that the Government exercises its influence in Europe
to empower EFSA to include action points in future [pesticides
approval] peer reviews which the European Commission must explicitly
address before approving active substances. The Government should
seek a common understanding in Europe that active substances should
be assessed by the regulatory authority of a Member State other
than the one in which the applicant company is based. (Paragraph
26. We agree with the Committee that it is important
that the pesticides approval system should be rigorous and thorough.
However, we do not agree with the Committee's analysis of the
review of imidacloprid in 2006.
27. The issue of the handling of a particular
soil accumulation study was examined at length by the Committee.
Defra addressed the specific and general issues raised in Lord
de Mauley's letter of 12 January (published in the Committee's
report at pages 237 to 241).
28. There are two points to pick up from the
report (paragraph 39) that do not come out in the conclusions
and recommendations. First, the Committee state that Defra "justified"
the approval of imidacloprid on the grounds that it is not bioaccumulative.
This is not the case. We simply pointed out that imidacloprid
does not meet the criteria for "persistent, bioaccumulative
and toxic" (which would rule it out from approval under the
new rules) because it is not bioaccumulative. This does not mean
it should be approved but that it needs to be put through a full
risk assessment to allow an informed decision. Second, the Committee
state that Defra did not engage with the question whether imidacloprid's
apparent half-life in soil might constitute an "unacceptable
influence on the environment". This is incorrect. We have
made it clear that it is not the half life but its implications
for soil organisms that is critical. This was considered in the
original UK assessment of imidacloprid and is being reconsidered
during the re-registration of the relevant products using the
latest guidelines and the end points from the EU evaluation.
29. Next, we turn to the Committee's conclusions
and recommendations. In addressing the Committee's first point
about the pesticides approvals regime, it is important to understand
the two tier nature of the EU regime. Active substances are assessed
against the relevant safety standards and a decision is made at
EU level as to whether the active substance can be approved. The
relevant Regulation requires that "Authorisation to be expected
to be possible in at least one Member State, for at least one
plant protection product for at least one representative use".
When an active substance is approved, Member States then consider
applications for authorisation for products containing that active
substance. Common rules apply to this process.
30. It follows from this that a decision by the
European Commission to approve a substance does not mean that
all possible uses of that substance will be acceptable. It is
based on there being at least one use that is acceptable. The
alternativefor the EU approval process to cover and decide
on all possible uses in all Member Stateswould be an entirely
impractical and unnecessary proposition. It would make it impossible
to review all active substances on a regular basis and would carry
the risk of stifling innovation if each new development required
approval through an EU procedure. It is more effective that, once
approved, each product and its related uses have to be evaluated
at Member State level to establish that they meet the criteria
31. EFSA already identifies issues in their conclusions
which the Commission address before approving a substance. The
mechanisms by which Commission decisions deal with issues identified
by EFSA are through placing restrictions on how Member States
must act when authorising products or by identifying issues for
Member States to consider.
32. In the particular case of the imidacloprid
review, Germany assessed two soil accumulation studies, including
the one highlighted by the Committee. When EFSA considered the
Draft Assessment Report, it agreed with a number of Germany's
conclusions but found that the reasons for the different findings
of the two studies were not fully explained. EFSA recommended
further modelling "so the degradation pattern from these
sites (both German and UK sites) can be more accurately incorporated
into further exposure assessments". The Commission found
that one use (glasshouse use on tomatoes, for which impacts on
soil dwelling organisms is not an issue) met the requirements
for approval and identified the impact on earthworms and other
soil macro-organisms as an issue for particular consideration
by Member States considering product authorisations.
33. On the issue of potential conflicts of interest,
it is relevant that multinational companies (such as Bayer Crop
Sciences, the approval holder for imidacloprid) operate across
a number of countries. It would not be straightforward to decide
the level of presence in a country that might be considered to
lead to a potential conflict of interests on the part of the country's
34. More fundamentally, the recommendation does
not take account of the role of the Rapporteur Member State (Germany
in the case of the review of imidacloprid). The Rapporteur provides
the Draft Assessment Report for an active substance based on an
evaluation of the scientific dossier provided by the applicant
company. The DAR is submitted to the European Food Safety Authority
(EFSA). EFSA organise a peer review by experts from Member States
and draw on this as they see fit in producing their own conclusions.
The conclusions are sent to the Commission and this risk assessment
is used by the Commission to make a risk management decision,
explained in a review report. Where the risk management decision
leads to a proposal for approval, this may include conditions
to apply and issues requiring particular attention when Member
States consider applications for product authorisation.
35. The allocation of active substances to rapporteur
Member States is either a matter for the European Commission for
substance reviews or a matter of choice for the applicant for
new substances. The rules on this are set out in EU regulation
1107/2009. Companies' choice of rapporteur may be based on many
factors, including capacity, expertise, common language and convenience
to the office from which an application is made. However it would
categorically not be in a company's interest to choose a rapporteur
on the basis that it might produce a more favourable evaluation.
With the rigorous scrutiny by EFSA that follows submission of
the rapporteur's work, such a move would be self-defeating. It
would only lead to delays with the application and a reduced time
to recoup the considerable investment required in the development
of the substance.
3. RISK AND PRECAUTION
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 'exposed' hives. The FERA bumblebee
study is not therefore a compelling basis for inaction. (Paragraph
36. Both laboratory studies and field studies
have their place in informing the regulatory risk assessment:
- Laboratory studies are particularly
useful in enabling a controlled and standardised investigation.
They allow for a far greater number of replicates and are thus
more appropriate for use in statistical analyses. Dosing regimes
can be controlled better so the doses resulting in an effect can
be identified more clearly. However, the dosing regime in a lab
study is often more extreme (either in terms of quantity or type)
than would be experienced in life.
- Field studies provide exposure patterns in line
with those more generally experienced in real situations. However
it is more difficult to determine the actual dosing received and
to interpret whether any effects seen were directly attributable
to the experimental exposures due to the number of other uncontrolled
variables. The cost and time associated with field studies means
there will be fewer replicates and such studies can be difficult
to analyse using statistics (although this will depend upon the
exact study design).
37. The Government agrees that there are several
laboratory studies that have raised concerns by demonstrating
the potential for effects of neonicotinoids on bees. However,
long experience shows that effects found in laboratory conditions
are not always replicated in the field. This issue is addressed
for neonicotinoids in the Defra document "An assessment of key evidence about neonicotinoids and bees"
published in March. This document points to aspects of the Henry
et al, Whitehorn et al and Gill et al studies that are not realistic
in replicating field conditions. It also draws on the findings
of a number of field trials which consistently show no unacceptable
38. The Fera bumble bee study placed bumble bee
colonies within landscapes known to contain oilseed rape (OSR)
treated with neonicotinoids. The researchers measured colony growth
rate, production of queens, neonicotinoid residues in nectar and
pollen, and the kind of pollen being collected by the bees. They
found no relationship between colony growth and neonicotinoid
residues within pollen or nectar in the colonies. The bumble bee
colonies grew to up to twice the mass of the untreated groups
in the Whitehorn et al study.
39. The Fera study had design limitations because
of the field conditions under which it was conducted. Even without
these limitations, it is still just one piece of evidence and
the Government has always taken its view from the totality of
the evidence. The Fera study is not therefore the sole basis or
even the main basis for the Government's conclusions. However,
it is representative of an increasing number of field-realistic
studies that have failed to find an effect of neonicotinoids on
bees. It is on the basis of this broad view and not the Fera study
alone that the Government presently considers that the risk to
bee populations from neonicotinoids, as they are currently used,
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.
40. Neonicotinoids are widely used on a range
of crops in the UK and in every other EU country. Agriculture
is a resilient industry and UK farming could, very likely, manage
without neonicotinoids. However, they are one of only a handful
of classes of insecticides and have considerable advantages over
the alternatives in some situations. It is likely, as agronomist
witnesses reported to the Committee, that the impacts of loss
of neonicotinoids on crop productivity would be variable. Some
farm operations in some years might be significantly affected,
while others might be affected more lightly.
41. We were extremely disappointed that the European
Commission, in preparing their proposals for precautionary restrictions
on neonicotinoids, made no effort to assess the likely knock on
implications. These include the high risk that current localised
resistance to alternative insecticides will become more widespread
and the environmental risks posed by these alternatives. The Committee's
report mentions oilseed rape. This is an important crop because
it is a profitable rotational crop in cereal production. As it
is grown on a substantial scale and is attractive to bees, it
has been a likely focus for restrictions. The key issues in the
use of neonicotinoids as seed treatments for oilseed rape (and
crops such as maize, sweetcorn and linseed) include:
- Neonicotinoid seed treatments
assist in crop establishment by reducing feeding damage by flea
beetles, and control of the aphid virus vector Myzus persicae.
The risk of total crop failure at this stage is thus much reduced;
- The main alternatives to neonicotinoid seed treatments
would be pyrethroid foliar sprays. They have three main disadvantages
when compared with neonicotinoid seed treatments from an agronomic
sprays cannot be applied to crops until they have grown to the
point where they have a significant leaf area. They are therefore
of little use in dealing with pest attacks when the crop first
emerges or before it emerges.
Second, effective virus control requires
very rapid knockdown of the carrying insect pest. This means that
the crop needs to be treated at the time of insect attack, not
subsequently. To achieve this with pyrethroids may require a considerable
number of sprays.
Third, there are already significant
pockets of resistance of aphids to pyrethroids in the UK and reported
instances of resistance of flea beetles elsewhere in Europe. Increased
use without the alternative control method provided by neonicotinoid
seed treatment will increase the resistance pressure for pyrethroids.
It is likely that these active substances would in a short period
become relatively ineffective against Myzus persicae, leaving
no alternative chemical control measures available.
- Widespread pyrethroid resistance
in Myzus populations would impact various crop sectors because
of its broad range of host crops. Impacts would therefore not
be confined only the production of oilseed rape.
- Without adequate pest control, growers would
suffer financial losses. These might result from reduced yields
of oilseed rape itself. It is also possible that growers would
no longer use oilseed rape as a rotational crop with cereals,
which would lead to reduced cereal yields. Other possible cereal
break crops are problematic.
- All insecticides on the market have passed a
risk assessment in order to be authorised. However, they all carry
their own environmental risks. Pyrethroid sprays are generally
acutely toxic to honey bees, although under field conditions they
tend to pose a reduced risk. Pyrethroids also pose a risk to aquatic
life and as a result buffer zones are required. In addition, pyrethroids
pose a risk to non-target arthropods and as a result carry risk
42. Other crops which are not attractive to bees
are also heavily dependent upon neonicotinoid seed treatments
because of resistance issues with alternative products. These
crops include maize and autumn-sown cereals.
43. The Committee noted suggestions that restrictions
on neonicotinoids in Italy had not resulted in serious implications
for growers. Such evidence from other countries would need to
be considered with care. There are clearly differences in climate,
crops and pests between Italy and the UK. Furthermore, the Italian
restrictions on neonicotinoids have been applied only to some
uses and for a few years and so the consequences may not be the
same as for broader or longer-term changes. That said, such evidence
would clearly be valuable. However, the Government is not aware
of anything other than anecdotal accounts.
44. The Government has considered what it can
do to help farmers and growers affected by the restrictions on
neonicotinoids. In the short-term, we have negotiated a longer
lead-in time for the restrictions, similar to that recommended
by the Committee, to reduce the scope for dislocation of the seed
supply chain. We are providing advice to ensure that the nature
of the restrictions is clear. For the longer-term we are considering,
in discussion with interested parties, the further evidence needed
to inform the 2015 review of the restrictions and future decision-making.
We are continuing work on alternative pest control products and
techniques under the Integrated Pest Management banner and this
is described in a little more detail in the response to recommendation
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. (Paragraph
45. The Government agrees with the Committee
that policy on pesticides must be evidence based and that the
precautionary principle applies in this area where there is a
potentially serious threat and the science is uncertain. We also
agree that it will sometimes be necessary to take a decision on
the available information and not to wait indefinitely for better
information to come to light. We do not, however, entirely agree
with the Committee's view as to how the precautionary principle
46. The Committee mention the 1992 Rio Declaration
on Environment and Development. Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration
states "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
47. It is therefore clear that economic issues
are relevant when the precautionary principle is invoked. This
is not to say that economic issues trump environmental concerns.
On the contrary, serious environmental threats must be tackled,
even if this carries costs. But economic factors are relevant
because the precautionary principle requires that before a decision
is taken, the available evidence is to be used to carry out the
best possible assessment of the risks and the options for action.
Extreme cases illustrate the point that action should be informed
by consideration of the knock-on consequences. It would evidently
be right to tackle even a remote risk of serious environmental
damage if this action carried no cost. It would not be right to
tackle the same remote risk if the action needed would cripple
48. We do not understand the Committee's recommendation
that there should be a political process, including economic considerations,
after the risk management decision has been made. Economic and
other policy factors cannot be taken into account after a decision
has been made. Perhaps the issue is one of terminology. We see
there being two parts to the processrisk assessment and
risk management. Economic considerations, if relevant, form part
of the second, risk management, stage. The risk assessment stage
looks only at the evidence on risks and does not consider the
practicalities of action.
49. The European Commission set out a clear description
of the application of the precautionary principle in the EU in
a Communication in 2000. This Communication describes a structured
approach to evaluating the evidence (the risk assessment) and
making a decision on whether and how to act (risk management).
The risk assessment process considers the available science and
reaches the best possible view as to the potential negative effects
and their magnitude and probability. The outputs of this process
are then considered by the risk managers. Their decision-making
brings in a number of other issues, including considerations of
proportionality, non-discrimination, consistency, benefits and
costs of action or lack of action and examination of scientific
50. The system for regulating pesticides requires
that pesticide active substances and products must be authorised
before they can be used. Products need to satisfy a quantitative
risk assessment before they are authorised and no other factors
are considered; possible economic considerations do not form part
of the assessment. The legislation clearly sets out that safety
takes precedence over economic need. This kind of science-based
assessment before authorisation is in itself an expression of
the precautionary principle.
51. On the specific issue of neonicotinoids and
their effects on pollinators, the Government has always made it
clear that it is prepared to act if the scientific evidence suggests
an unacceptable risk. In this situation, economic aspects would
simply guide the action taken. If there were multiple approaches
that would reduce the risk to acceptable levels, we would choose
the option that carried the least costs.
52. However, our current assessment of the evidence
is that there is not an unacceptable risk to pollinators from
the present uses of neonicotinoids. We therefore regard sweeping
restrictions on neonicotinoids as unnecessary and the resultant
costs as unjustified.
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". (Paragraph 74)
53. It is normal good practice to ensure that
the UK meets the legal requirements when implementing EU legislation.
The Government has clear policies on the need to avoid unnecessary
regulation in general and, in particular, to avoid gold-plating
EU requirements. The UK has long had comprehensive legislation
and policies to protect people and the environment from adverse
effects of pesticides. Our standards are amongst the highest in
Europe and so no major changes were needed to meet the requirements
of the EU Directive on the sustainable use of pesticides. We made
it clear in our response to the public consultation on this issue
that we would consider further action if, and only if, there was
compelling evidence that this was needed to tackle real risks.
54. The UK National Action Plan does meet the
requirements of the Sustainable Use Directive. It contains quantitative
objectives, targets, measures, timetables and indicators. It does
not contain quantitative use reduction targets. These are not
a requirement of the Directive and it has been a long-held Government
view that such use reduction targets are not meaningful and effective
in terms both of reducing risk and of providing evidence of progress
or otherwise. They can be counterproductive, for example by driving
users towards more active pesticides used in lower quantities.
They can also be thrown off course as the amounts of pesticides
used in any year will be dependent on factors such as market prices
for produce and the weather.
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. (Paragraph 80)
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. (Paragraph 80)
55. There are clear advantages to avoiding the
unnecessary or excessive use of agricultural inputs. However,
cases where pesticide use is entirely unnecessary or unarguably
excessive are likely to be very rare, particularly given the costs
of products. In more marginal cases, there is not likely to be
a clear minimum possible quantity as there is likely to be a trade-off
between quantity and degree of control of pests, diseases or weeds.
This may particularly be an issue where the need to manage resistance
concerns means that more than one pesticide needs to be used.
It is also the case, as discussed under Conclusion 8, that
a larger quantity of pesticide may carry a lower risk of adverse
effects if it is an inherently less toxic product or if the timing
or mode of use is such as to reduce risk.
56. For these reasons, the Government agrees
that an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach has much to
recommend it. IPM requires the growers to use a range of techniques
to minimise the need for plant protection measures, to use threshold
measurements where possible to determine when such measures are
needed and to prefer physical or biological control to chemicals.
Where chemicals are needed, selective and lower toxicity products
are to be preferred.
57. The UK National Action Plan recognises the
legal requirements around IPM set out in Directive 2009/128/EC
on the sustainable use of pesticides. Equally it recognises the
advantages of developing and encouraging IPM techniques, which
can do much to support sustainable crop protection given the declining
range of available chemicals. The Plan itself clearly states that
it will be developed as a living document and that arrangements
for priority areas such as achieving the uptake of IPM will be
58. Defra already spends a significant sum on
the pesticides work carried out by the Chemicals Regulation Directorate
of HSE, including development of the National Action Plan and
the work of the Pesticides Forum to support it. Defra also spends
a significant proportion of its pesticides research and development
budget on issues that are relevant to IPM, including alternatives
to using conventional chemical pesticides and resistance management.
Industry has made a substantial investment in the pesticides Voluntary
Initiative which is one of the primary delivery mechanisms for
the action plan objectives.
59. In seeking to develop IPM, we are starting
from a position where many farmers and growers adopt practices
which are in line with IPM, in part because practices consistent
with the general principles of IPM are required by Assured Food
Standards schemes. Specific standards are set for individual crops.
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. (Paragraph 81)
60. The Government's view of the current evidence
is outlined in our response to Conclusion 5 above. We do not consider
that the evidence points to unacceptable risks to bees. We do
not, therefore, consider that it supports the course of action
proposed by the Committee. For the same reason we voted against
the very similar proposal made by the Commission and now in place
as Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 485/2013.
61. Nevertheless, as previously discussed, the
Commission have adopted the proposals and we will implement them
in full. We are considering what part the UK Government can usefully
play in building a widely-supported evidence base in time for
a review of restrictions in 2015.
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. (Paragraph 84)
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. (Paragraph 84)
62. The Government's view is that, given our
current assessment of the risk to bees from agricultural use,
there is no basis for taking action on amateur use. Garden use
is on a significantly smaller scale than agricultural use and
many garden products are based on acetamiprid and thiacloprid,
which are of much lower toxicity to bees than are the other neonicotinoids.
Amenity use is focussed on use on turf. This cannot be considered
to be attractive to bees and can have a significant economic value,
for example in the case of high quality sports turf.
63. Nevertheless, a ban on amateur use for clothianidin,
imidacloprid and thiamethoxam is contained in Regulation 485/2013.
The ban does not extend to amenity use or to products based on
acetamiprid and thiacloprid.
4. SUPPORTING POLLINATORS
In its forthcoming review of advice, incentives and voluntary
initiatives for farmers, Defra should give prominence to measures
which would support bees and other pollinators, including leaving
land un-cropped. (Paragraph 88)
64. The Review of Advice, Incentives and Partnership
Approaches was published on 27 March. The Review focussed on looking
at the generic picture of advice delivery, how advice complements
incentive payments such as Environmental Stewardship and how it
could be improved and streamlined rather than specific types of
65. One of its key recommendations was to recognise
the potential role of voluntary/partnership approaches in environmental
advice delivery. An existing scheme, the Campaign for the Farmed
Environment, is seen as an exemplar of an industry led, voluntary
approach in partnership with Government, delivering environmental
outcomes. The first phase of the Campaign, now completed, focussed
on encouraging farmers to leave land un-cropped to mitigate the
effects of losing set aside. It also encouraged pro-active environmental
management through targeting option choice in ELS towards the
more beneficial in field options and promoting voluntary environmental
management. This included options and voluntary measures which
encouraged planting of wild flower mixes beneficial to pollinating
66. The next phase of the Campaign has just begun,
learning lessons from, and building on the earlier phase. The
new Campaign will focus on proactive environmental management
(right environmental option, right management, right place) on
small areas of land, again through ELS and voluntary measures.
Again the industry-led initiative will give prominence to birds
and pollinators and encourage farmers to plant wild flower seed
mixes beneficial to pollinating insects as well as other beneficial
activities such as leaving field margins uncropped and uncultivated,
maintaining low input, permanent pasture and planting legume and
herb rich swards. In response to the Review's recommendation on
streamlining advice, the Campaign will also combine messages with
other industry initiatives, such as the pesticides Voluntary Initiative
(VI), which encourages responsible use of pesticides to minimise
the impact on the environment and wildlife.
67. As CAP Reform develops, the Campaign will
want to adapt its focus as required to other areas where it has
the potential to provide added value. These may include greening
and enhancing the environmental benefits of future agri-environment
While much detail remains to be negotiated in the European
Commission and between Member States, the prospective CAP package
for the next seven years offers opportunities for significant
additional 'greening' measures, including programmes which could
support greater use of 'buffer strips' and other pollinator habitats.
The Government's stance in negotiations in Europe on the new CAP
package should be to push measures which offer meaningful pollinator
support within the environmental schemes qualifying for payment.
And from that baseline, the Government should then follow a similar
outlook in designing qualifying initiatives in England (the devolved
Administrations would manage their own schemes). (Paragraph 91)
68. CAP reform negotiations in Brussels concluded
in the last few days of June. At the time of writing we await
the legal texts of the new regulations, including the precise
arrangements for the greening of the CAP. We believe that these
should give Member States flexibility, if they wish, to design
alternative, but equivalent, greening measures to those proposed
by the European Commission. Such alternatives would be introduced
through a Certification Scheme and would consist of measures which
deliver at least equivalent environmental benefits to those proposed
by the Commission. This could give the opportunity, for instance,
to focus on delivering benefits for pollinators. If the Certification
Scheme approach is not taken up, it is expected that the Regulations
would provide opportunities for Member States to select their
preferred options for Ecological Focus Areas which, again, might
focus on delivering benefits for pollinators.
69. Once we are clear on the legal texts, there
will be opportunities for stakeholders to comment on how they
think greening should be implemented in England. The extent to
which greening measures might contribute to the enhancement of
pollinator habitats could then be considered alongside other priorities.
70. From 1 January this year we have introduced
specific changes to Environmental Stewardship options, including
new payments for options such as legume and herb rich swards,
which will benefit pollinators including bees. We are currently
examining what new elements might enhance the effectiveness and
quality of existing scheme options, including those for pollinators,
which might be taken forward under the new Rural Development Programme
starting in 2015.
The conservation of pollinators is crucial to maintaining
biodiversity in the UK. In addition, pollinators have a significant
economic value as an ecosystem service to UK agriculture. Farmers
and environmentalists therefore have a shared interest in conserving
pollinators. The data on the value and health of pollinator populations
is currently insufficiently precise to inform a marketised approach
that could capture the benefits and costs of pesticide use. (Paragraph
Defra should prioritise its work on valuing ecosystem services
and at an early stage in that work address the particular case
study of pollinators to ensure that policy making on insecticides
fully reflects not only direct financial costs but wider environmental
costs. (Paragraph 95)
71. We have already done a great deal of work
to understanding the value of ecosystem services. For example,
the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) gives us a compelling
evidence base on the importance of nature's services. We have
ongoing follow-on activities but we agree that there are still
evidence gaps in this area.
72. The economic value of pollination services
in the UK is uncertain due to the small number of existing studies.
Current estimates of the direct value of market benefits from
pollinator services are in the order of hundreds of millions of
pounds, but it must be noted that these estimates rely on incomplete
scientific information. Further evidence would improve these estimates.
For example, it could help us to capture the value of marginal
changes in pollination services, as well as capturing social and
environmental value more broadly.
73. To help develop our understanding in this
area, we intend to convene workshops in autumn 2013 to bring together
national experts from government and non-government organisations
for an open debate on the value and health of pollinator populations.
This will look at the most recent scientific progress made on
pollination, including gaps in our knowledge, and the policies
that affect pollinators.
74. On the issue of the effects of pesticides
in general and neonicotinoids in particular on pollinators, we
should emphasise once more that the safety regulation of pesticides
is aimed at avoiding unacceptable risks. It does not allow high
economic benefits of pesticide use to be traded against otherwise