Bees October 2016

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding neonicotinoids and bees. I have no doubt about the importance of pollinators to our food supply, biodiversity, and economy and I share your concern about the decline in bee numbers.

I understand that there are many reasons for the decline of pollinators, including habitat loss, climate change, and pests and diseases. I fully supported the European-wide ban because I believed it was a proportionate response to the evidence available. I also appreciate that more evidence - including the research from Sussex University - has appeared since the EU introduced its restrictions which emphasises the risk of these pesticides to bees.

However, the Government approved an application for the ban to be lifted in autumn 2015 to allow chemicals to be sprayed on oilseed rape to help prevent crop damage. So far, the Government has received a small number of applications for emergency authorisation in 2016 but on the advice of the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides, has rejected them.

I also believe the Government's national pollinator strategy, which was published in 2014, does not go far enough. It does not, for example, adequately tackle habitat destruction, damaging farming practices, bad planning decisions and neonicotinoid use. I would like to see more effort from the Government in creating better farm habitats and in assessing alternatives to neonicotinoids, such as redesigning crop rotations.

The European Commission announced in 2013 that it would restrict the use of neonicotinoids to crops that are not attractive to bees and other pollinators after the European Food Safety Authority concluded that 3 commonly used neonicotinoid pesticides pose an unacceptable danger to bees. The Coalition Government initially opposed the ban. 

The European Commission (EC) has begun the process of reviewing the evidence and will look at the effects on bees from seed treatment and granule uses of the restricted neonicotinoids on any crop. It was expected that the EC would complete this assessment by 31 January 2017, with the uncertainty of the Brexit process the future shape of the UK’s pesticide regulations is uncertain.

However, I am concerned many environmental protections are at risk following the outcome of the EU referendum and I am aware organisations such as Friends of the Earth and 38 Degrees have raised concerns about the potential use of neonicotinoids after the UK has left the EU. Until the UK does leave the EU, EU law will still have effect in the UK and the Government has said that current arrangements for our environment - including in relation to the ban on neonicotinoids - will remain in place until we leave. I believe the Government needs to set out its strategy for the future and how it will protect the provisions of important directives. I also believe it is vital to take a science-led approach to pesticide use and to consider how best to support farmers, protect wildlife and reverse the decline of pollinators. 

Finally, the Government has delayed publication of its 25 year plan for the Environment and its 25 year food and farming plan. I believe these plans are vital in order to set out a long-term approach to farming and the environment and to build stability across the whole of the UK. I hope the Government will publish both plans as a matter of urgency, although I believe there should be one combined plan - because farming and the environment are intrinsically linked.

Thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views. I can assure you I will continue to press the Government to apply evidence-based policy on neonicotinoids and our nation’s pollinators.