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29th April 2013

Sam Burcher reviews a spate of meetings at Westminster to protect the bees.

bees 2 for SB website

Campaigners are celebrating the EU’s decision at the end of April to ban neonicotinoids on flowering crops for two years, starting this year.  The decision comes on the back of some vigorous campaigns and protesting by various UK groups concerned about protecting bees from this type of pesticide. 

Several meetings about the detrimental effects of neonicotinoids on bees have taken place at Westminster over the past few months. Most recently the March of the Beekeepers swarmed on Parliament Square in late April to protest the UK Government abstaining to vote for the EU ban.

Dame Vivienne Westwood and Katherine Hamnett CBE, pioneers of British fashion, marched with angry beekeepers to Downing Street to deliver the Save the Bee petition of 2.6 million signatures calling for the UK government to take action. Three days later, a second vote in Brussels banned neonicotinoids with the support of 15 EU countries. The ban will not apply to winter cereals and crops not attractive to bees.

Owen Paterson, the UK’s Environment Secretary, abstained from the EU vote both times in favour of supporting the makers of neonicotinoids, Bayer and Syngenta. In defence of the Government’s abstention, DEFRA has said they await results of their own further studies. Consequently, it’s view that the risk to bee populations from neonicotinoids, as currently used is low, ignores the Precautionary Principle, the scientific research that demonstrates that neonicotinoids harm bees and the fundamental flaws in the pesticides regulatory system.

Prior to the April protest, in January the recall occurred of Bayer’s Dr Julian Little, who had previously misled the Government’s ‘green’ watchdog, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) by saying neonicotinoids persist in the soil for sometime between 16-200 days. He later revised that figure to 288 days. However, a truer picture would be a half-life of 13-1386 days, depending on soil type, while accumulation will occur if the same piece of soil is used year after year. Under pressure, he said if the European Food Standards Agency applied enhanced standards to the pesticides industry to address current knowledge gaps, ‘...You would have to ban pretty much all insecticides and an awful lot of non-insecticides as well.’

Also presenting evidence was toxicologist Dr Vyvyan Howard. He told the EAC that the developers of pesticides are not toxicologists, so there is very little data about how their applied doses and frequencies synergise with all the other chemicals in the environment. He worked out that any three chemicals in combination with a 100 variables equals 15 million combinations and comparing just two compounds can take three years.

Then in February an all-party meeting chaired by Green Party leader Caroline Lucas addressed the theme: A Countryside fit for Pollinators. She introduced Dave Goulson of Sterling University, who said that neonicotinoids are the most widely used pesticide worldwide since the early 1990’s. In the UK they are mainly used as a seed dressing painted onto seeds before they are sown, which enters every part of the plant as it grows including the pollen. He reported that imidacloprid, a widely used systemic neonicotinoid, is about 5,000 times more toxic to honey bees than DDT and that two species of bumblebees have gone extinct.

Finally, in March the Pesticides Action Network and the Environmental Justice Foundation hosted a bee ‘bash’ on the Pavilion Terrace. Joining them in calling for a moratorium on bee-killing chemicals was celebrity chef Ainsley Harriott and designer Katherine Hamnett. But polymath Bill Oddie summed up the situation best by stating:

‘It’s the same all over the world where the situation is destroying wildlife, natural areas and forests. It’s the people who already have a lot of money making more money. And that is precisely what all of Owen Paterson’s decisions are based on - some wealthy cronies in whatever industry we happen to be dealing with, in this case the pharmaceutical/pesticides industry.’

This article is also published by Caduceus magazine Photo (c) Sam Burcher 2013.