Farmers will be able to use blacklisted pesticides linked to serious harm in bees after the UK government temporarily lifted an EU ban. Two neonicotinoid pesticides can now be used for 120 days on about 5% of England’s oil seed rape crop. Products from chemical giants Bayer and Syngenta will be deployed to ward off the cabbage stem flea beetle. Bees and other pollinators are essential for many crops but are in decline due to pesticides, loss of habitat and disease. The EU neonicotinoid ban began in December 2013, after the European Food Safety Authority judged them to pose an unacceptable - and in some cases acute - risk to bees. Scientific research has linked the pesticides to huge losses in the number of queen bees produced and big rises in “disappeared” bees – those that fail to return from feeding trips.
Ministers have not made public the information provided by the NFU, citing commercial confidentiality.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) also told its expert committee on pesticides (ECP) to halt its normal practice of publishing the minutes of meetings at which the neonicotinoid applications were discussed, in order to avoid “provoking representations from different interest groups”.
Barry Gardiner, Labour’s shadow Defra minister, said: “I have written to environment secretary Liz Truss challenging her to release whatever scientific evidence she considers could possibly justify this decision. Public confidence cannot be maintained if she refuses.” The decision was made public after parliament ended for the summer, making scrutiny by MPs impossible, he said. Gardiner said the Europe-wide ban on neonicotinoids was an essential element of the protection of pollinating insects. “By lifting the ban government is giving in to short term commercial pressures at the expense of the future of British of farming.”