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A JOINT CAMPAIGN BETWEEN THE ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE FOUNDATION AND PESTICIDES ACTION NETWORK UK LAUNCH AT THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT ON 21 MARCH 2013.

 

EJFandPAN group photo

From left to right: KeithTyrell, Ainsley Harriott, Katherine Hamnett CBE, Sir Bob Russell and Steve Trent.


Sir Bob Russell:  This is first time I’ve had to queue to get into an event that I am hosting. I think that demonstrates the seriousness of the event and why so many of you are here. I have hosted other events here.  For the 40th anniversary of Dr Who we had a dalek.  And one to get darts recognised as a sport.  If we can get a dalek in here and get darts recognised as a sport I hope we can achieve the same outcome with the more serious issues.

Why are we here?  Because bees are essential to us.  Out of 100 crop species worldwide I am told that 71 of these are bee pollinated.  We all know that populations of bees and other pollinators have dropped dramatically in recent years and my late paternal grandfather I can recall still seeing two hives at the bottom of the garden.  I think he would be aghast about what has happened over the last few decades. So these is little doubt that these declines are complex and wide ranging, but there is little doubt that pesticides play a key part. And other speakers will develop that in due course.

Now today’s speakers are Ian Bowls, head of sustainability at Premier Foods, Ainsley Harriott, the British Celebrity Chef, Richard Corrigan,  Michelin Starred Chef and three times winner of the Great British Menu, Katherine Hamnett CBE, widely recognised as the Queen of Ethical Fashion.  Very importantly, we have the pupils from the Charlton Manor School in Greenwich.  We have the Queen’s florist, Dalesford Organic Food, Abel and Cole, Rapanui, and Creature London.

Now to take the event forward I will ask to come here the Executive Director of the Environmental Justice Foundation, Mr Steve Trent. Thank you.

Steve Trent:  Thank you very much.  Thank you Mr Russell, Sir Bob for hosting us all and thank you everybody for coming and spending time to listen to what we have got to say this afternoon.  We’ve got a whole host of bee keepers in this room this afternoon and I think you will understand why we are here.

I want to give a very simple, quick, clear message about what this is all focussing on.  The simple thing is that bees are in trouble.  They’re declining not just in the United Kingdom, but in many other countries around the world and one of the deep problems that they face, is pesticides.  One of the key pesticides that is being applied to plants, our food crops that we are eating, are something called neonicotinoids.

Now the simple message is that we couldn’t do without bees.  There is a science that tells us that we couldn’t do without bees and there is the science that tells us what neonicotinoids are doing to bees.

I want to close my very short presentation, because there are others that are far more eloquent and have more to say than I do,  by quoting a former member of the government, a former environment minister, a gentleman who was then called John Selwyn Gummer,  and who is now called Lord Deben, who served as Environment Secretary, and I think his words ring really very true and were a message to the current Government who are digging their heels in, who are prevaricating, who are being myopic, I would say in not taking action and not banning neonicotinoids and creating a Pollinator Action Plan.

And to give you Mr Gummer’s quote, what he said was: “If ever there were an issue where the Precautionary Principle ought to guide our actions, it is in the use of neonicotinoids.”  Bees are too important to our crops to continue to take this risk.”

He was talking about the continued application of pesticides.  If we don’t stop, we will continue to see further colony collapses and this will have a direct impact on our ability to feed ourselves, to grow food, to sustain our natural biodiversity that ultimately sustains us all. So that’s the message today.

Now before passing on to our first speaker who comes from the retail industry, we want to show you a very short three minute film that highlights what bees are about and why they’re important and why we should enjoy them so much.

Narration of Save the Bees film:  Across the UK and Ireland some of our most valuable wildlife species are being wiped out.  While we enjoy and abundance of fruits and vegetables, beautiful wild flowers and breathtaking countryside the quiet heroes that make all this possible are slowly falling victim to deadly pesticides,

Pollination gives us many of the freshly grown foods we rely on for our vitamins and minerals.  Bees pollinate the plants required for livestock raising so they have a far reaching impact on our food security.  One third of our diet comes from flowering crops, 80% of which are pollinated by bees.

In the UK alone, the value of bees to our economy is estimated at £430m per year.  But to increase productivity, toxic pesticides are being used on crops and other plants.  These pesticides are intended to protect plants and increase yield, but they are having a devastating effect on bees and other pollinators.

Neonicotinoids are widespread, making up 24% of the total pesticide market.  The pesticides are systemic, which means that the poison runs through the entire plant from root to tip. They are present in pollen and nectar and even low exposure to them can cause behavioural disturbances, disorientation, reduced foraging, impaired memory and inability to communicate. And high exposure causes death.

The UK is home to hundreds of species of bees and they are all under threat.  Our bee populations are declining at an alarming rate.  Two native species of bumble bee are already extinct and there are very few colonies of wild honey bees left.  Managed honey bee colonies are also in decline.  Simple steps can be taken to protect bees.  A ban on neonicotinoid pesticides and the adoption of farmer friendly practices could stop the decline in bee populations.  With your help we can make this happen.

EJF and PAN UK are together calling on the Government to commit to a Pollinator Action Plan with immediate and agreed steps towards the full protection of bees, butterflies, beetles, moths, flies and other pollinators.

We can all play a vital part in saving our bees.  By choosing to buy organic products and supporting pollinator friendly farming, avoiding pesticides in our own gardens and sowing bee friendly plants.  We can all make a difference.  We don’t want to imagine a world without bees.  Help us to ensure that the future of the UK’s countryside is rich with pollinators and the colour and diversity of life they bring. Visit http://ejfoundation.org/bees .

Steve Trent:  We have deliberately invited a range of speakers with a range of different views.  Our first speaker, I’m very pleased to introduce is Ian Bowls.  For those of you who don’t know what Premier Foods is, it’s the largest UK food producer, so I think he’s a person we should be listening to and taking his words into very careful consideration.

Ian Bowls: I’m not a natural public speaker so I have prepared a few words for you.  I’m the head of Sustainability at Premier Foods and Premier Foods you might not recognise as a name, but you do know our brands: Hovis, Mr Kipling, Ambrosia, Sharwoods, etc, etc.  The main impact of the decline of the UK bee population for ourselves is on our Mr Kipling cake brand for which we buy 5,000 tonnes of Bramley apples each year. Apple blossom needs warm sunshine for the fruit on the trees to set and although 2012 started well, blossom appearing during the March heat-wave, what we found in April and May was very poor weather conditions and the fruit was dropped from the trees.

I think we are beginning to see that there are lots of challenges for UK agriculture. This is relating to climate change and climate shift as well, so that it an issue that we need to phase into as a sector. So last year was not a good year for apples and not a particularly good year for wheat.  But every cloud has a silver lining, it was a extremely good year for sugar beet.

But for UK apple producers there is another challenge, in fact it’s a challenge for many UK food growers.  You can’t stop the rain from falling, but what you can do is protect one of their best and hardworking friends – and they are pollinating bees – who don’t charge for their services. We know that the rosy apple aphid (aka blue bug) is one of the most damaging apple pests and all commercially grown apples, including Bramley, Discovery, Egremont Russet, etc are highly susceptible varieties.

It’s now generally accepted that the use of neonicotinoids are causing an unacceptable risk to bees.  And,  in January this year, as you are no doubt all aware, the European Food Safety Authority official advisors to the EU labelled three neonicotinoids as being unacceptably dangerous to bees, specifically around flowering crops, and that’s why I reference Mr Kipling and the fact that we buy an awful lot of apples.  This would suggest that winter cereals would be excluded and one of our brands is Hovis - and neonicotinoids are used on that crop as well – the reason for that is that bees are not active during the winter period, although no doubt there will be further discussion and debate around the use of neonicotinoids on that crop as well.

So what’s to be done?  What we need is a safe and effective alternative to chemical insecticides, alongside the introduction to cultural controls such as encouraging natural enemies to blue bug for instance growing flowering plants in orchards that may attract less damaging aphid species such as apple grass aphid and avoiding the use of a broad spectrum of insecticides.

There are many challenges ahead for UK food producers and for Premier Foods to continue to produce food, we need to ensure that we have a sustainable and resilient supply chain and bees are essential to that.  Without pollination provided by bees the plants cannot produce the food stuffs which we need to be able to produce our products.  We talk a lot about animal welfare in the UK, but not so much about insect welfare and the economic value delivered by these natural pollinators, the bees.

What I can’t do is stand here today and say that Premier Foods is looking for an absolute ban on neonicotinoids.  We can’t say that.  What we are doing is putting our head a little bit above the parapet and supporting the joint campaign between EJF and PAN UK and really calling for the development and implementation of a UK National Pollinator Action Plan. And that’s our position, thank you.

Ainsley Harriott:  Good afternoon to you all ladies and gentlemen.  Isn’t it fantastic when it gets a little bit lighter, you know, when you’re looking outside and we’ve had that kind of darkness descended on us and now we have got this wonderful light!  And in a couple of weeks time the clocks will go forward and so we will have even more light and that means for me spring, it means for me bees, it just brings all of these wonderful things out.  And, I have to say that I was involved in a programme called The Great British Food Revival, and I championed honey. One of the reasons that I loved honey is that it’s just been in our family forever, and ever and ever.  I remember my father being a musician, a pianist actually, and travelling off to Mexico, and coming back with paint pot tins full of honey.  Can you imagine what that’s like when now you get little jars and little squeezy things of honey?  You were able to plunge you spoon inside and my mum would say “It’s good for the immune system.” And we all felt that, and it was fantastic to ward off colds and all these type of things and some people say it’s brilliant for the hayfever sufferers out there, and for any imperfections on the skin, you rub a little bit of honey on, all that type of stuff that I’ve kind of grown up with.

So to be able to do a programme about it and at the same time, whilst I was doing the programme, I have to confess, I was a little bit ignorant.  You know, I see the bees and I think of bees and honey.  Suddenly, you discover a lot more.  And I’ve been going around to lots of schools and showing them how to cook all sorts of things, you know how we chefs like to get out and do that, and often talk about honey to the children.  And, literally they think that bees mean honey.  They don’t realise all the cross pollination that goes on and that without out that we wouldn’t have a beautiful apple in our fruit bowl, we wouldn’t see the lovely strawberries in the summer and all of these things could very very easily disappear.  And why, I suppose because there are a lot of people out there who say, “Well this is an easy alternative, spray it with that and it covers everything.”

They’re not doing enough research into it and when I found out about this meeting today I wanted to come along and just express my views on it.  Because I think that we have to be really really careful.  It’s a time now when people are getting together collectively and fighting for things a lot more.  We’re standing up for our rights a lot more.  And whether that’s Facebook or Twitter or wherever it comes from, we are prepared to stand up now and be heard.  And I think it’s really, really important that a gathering like this combined with that might be able to get this message across and say “Hey, stop this!”

They’ve already started in Wales, I believe, and hopefully it’s going to be a fantastic success and spread throughout Britain.  And we’re going to be able to do something about this because bees are our life, bees are our food, and it’s not until you really find out about it, it’s not until you find out about it, (to a child in the audience) What do you think of bees?  Do you like bees?  You like them a lot! Professor Francis Ratnieks at University of Sussex is doing a lot of research on bees and he told me some fascinating facts.  What he’s trying to do is look at some hardier bees, because bees are being damaged in the environment, I think it was the British Black Bee which is much more hardy bee, more resilient bee.  Does that mean it has to fight off all these things that pollute the plants, all these chemicals?  What are we developing here?  Do you see where I’m coming from when I say this? What are we actually fighting for?  We should just be allowing those bees, and I know there lot’s of different varieties to get out there and pollinate and do whatever they do and just stop all of what’s going on!  Stop all of this damn spraying!  I am saying stop the damn spraying because it is affecting our environment.

My grandfather had something like eleven bee hives and his neighbour took him to court because they were saying that they were stopping their enjoyment of sitting in the garden and stuff like that.  He ended up with two in the end.  But it kind of proves that some people think that bees are really nasty and we have to get message across that that is not necessarily the case.  (To the kids, ok guys you know a lot about the workers and the waggle dance, show ‘em the waggle dance!)

Ladies and gentlemen, please collectively, I hope that we will be able to really stamp our feelings and get our passions across about how we feel about this and that we can come back next year and say yeah, that things have moved forward.  Thank you very much for inviting me along today.

Steve Trent:  Just to add to what Ainsley said, bees really do need a voice and already 2.5 million people have signed a petition calling for action.  I think that justifies, along with the science and the words of some of the ministers that they should be steps towards a near term phase out ban of neonicotinoids.

I am now very pleased to introduce Katherine Hamnett CBE, who has been a pioneer in fashion and in ethical fashion in particular and taking a stand for causes across a range of issues, so Katherine we are delighted to have your here, the podium is yours.

Katherine Hamnett:  Hi everybody. Thanks very much.  Well, I think my talk is going to be a lot fiercer than the last one because I guess that’s probably what I do.  But first of all I’d like to say that I love PAN UK.  In 1989, I did some research on the impact of the clothing and textile industry on the environment and thanks to the information that I got from PAN, I had to completely change my life because I found that an industry which I thought was completely and utterly harmless, how could we be doing any damage making silly frocks, was one of the biggest nightmares on the planet.  The third or fourth largest industry and responsible for killing tens of thousands of people from pesticide poisoning, millions sick a year, desertification, long term contamination of the aquifer and I’ve been blowing the whistle on the clothing industry ever since.

EJF, I love, because I think they are one of the most brilliant campaigning organisations, they work just with film and this is becoming increasingly, with the growth of the Internet and social networking, more and more influential and these guys make the best use of their money than I’ve ever seen any NGO do.  They are completely genius and I’m very happy and proud to be invited to this event.

So it’s been a bad week in Blighty.  Not only do we have the possibility of bee colony collapse, but we actually have evidence that British Democracy itself is in collapse as three-quarters of the Britons polled, which pro-rata represents 45 million people, are in favour of the European Food Safety Authority’s proposal to ban neonicotinoid pesticides.  This is an outrage.  There’s something rotten in the state of our democracy, but there’s also something not working in our campaigning strategy.  As citizens, campaigners and protesters we’ve failed: marches, direct action, t-shirts, demos, don’t work.  We’ve had CND for practically 50 years and we’ve still got the bomb.  Everybody knows how many people marched in the Stop the War Coalition march 10 years ago and yet we still invaded Iraq.  We’re missing a trick.

Petitions go in the garbage.  Eighty thousand people wrote emails to our environment minister Owen Paterson and he referred to them as a “cyber attack.”  I mean they just go in the garbage nobody takes any notice. What we actually have to do is write to our representatives and tell them that unless we see them actively representing our views, we’re not going to vote for them next time. I’d be very interested to see what would happen if all the citizens or constituents of North Shropshire in Owen Paterson’s constituency wrote to him, and there are 77,000 of them and said that we are not going to vote for you next time unless you reverse your position on the proposed EU ban.  I think it would make an enormous difference.  I think that if we want to make a difference, we’re running out of time on a lot of issues.  We have to get more engaged in our democracy, 25 million people died in the last war for us to still have democracy and we’re letting it slip through our fingers.  Now’s the time that we have to upgrade our tactics, modernise our tactics, you have to view politicians as a vested interest group, only interested in getting re-elected.  And, the only thing that is going to affect their behaviour once they are elected is that they’re not going to get re-elected.  So I would love it if everyone wrote a letter to their MP, to Owen Paterson, to the Prime Minister, because I think it’s an election issue.  I think that too many things have gone, too many things have slipped through our fingers, and we have got a chance of losing bees in this country, the price of oil is going up, we’ll be having to import food, our farmers will go bankrupt, there’s water shortages everywhere, a lot of people are going to die.

I think now is the time, right to your MPs and you guys here (addressing the children) you’re going to be able to vote soon.  You know, you’re not that far off eighteen.  You could find out who your MP is, if you don’t know.  You literally have to gone online to www.theyworkforyou.org and you find out who your MP is and write to him and say I’m going to be eighteen soon and unless you support the EU’s ban on neonicotinoid pesticides I’m not going to be voting for you when I’m of age.

Thank you very much.

Steve Trent:  Thank you very much Katherine.  It’s great to hear your words.  Theyworkforyou – bees work for us.  I mean it is a simple fact that’s gone unrecognised for perhaps too long, they work for us and they work for free.  All we need to do is look after them.  Two of the best known brands on the high street B&Q and Wicks are taking products off their shelves that have been produced using neonicotinoids.  Again what I am trying to put forward is that there is a wide range of opinion.  This is not the voice of one or two pressure groups, Non-Government Groups just saying what they think.  It comes from industry, it comes from science, it comes from business.  We need the Government to act.  So now I’ve said that I’m very pleased to invite to the stage the pupils of the Charter Manor Primary School in Greenwich.

This is Charlton Manor Primary School with our bee story so far:  Mr Baker is our headmaster and we have a five story luxury accommodation in which we have three bee hives and a nuc.  We also have an observatory so we can look at the bees and what they are up to.  At our hive entrance and exit we have a special camera so if you go on to our school website you can see what our bees are doing.  We had a special launch by Nick Raynsford, our MP for Greenwich.

We are learning about the bees and how to look after them and we have got a couple of clubs going for children to look after the bees and get up closer to them.  We got our bees in 2008, after we had a swarm of bees and Mr Baker decided that he would like to run a club for bees.

young beekeepersHere we have two boys suited up as beekeepers and ready for action.

After a summer of beekeeping, we added another hive to our two main hives and made cakes from our honey for our summer fair and our World War 2 day.  There was lots of support from our teachers, parents and wider community and we received the RHS level 4 award.  Only fourteen other schools in the country have achieved this level.

Our bees have starred on TV in “Milk Shake” on Channel 5 and Martha Kierney and the BBC have been filming a bee documentary with us and we have been on Newsround and our school bees have been featured in the recent best-selling book The Urban Beekeeper and Bees in the City.  You can also give your details to Mr Baker and you can get our own honey.  And now we have some flowers that bees are attracted to: we have a yellow winter crocus, the summer hollyhock, the summer buddleia, the summer rosemary and we have old man’s beard and autumn ivy.   

Steve Trent:  Brilliant!  A very, very eloquent presentation on why we need bees and what they mean to our children.  And it is literally our future.  I know that you often hear that about different issues and causes, but this is true!  You know that humble little insect is a key component part in our future.  And unless we protect it we are all going to be having problems whether it’s with the food we eat or with the beautiful plants that they showed us that surround us.  Again, your voice is needed.

Now our last speaker tonight, I’m very pleased to invite our partner in this exercise, Keith from Pesticides Action Network.  We’re running a joint campaign with them. Keith Tyrell is the Chief Director of PAN UK and a recognised expert, so I’ll hand over to Keith.

Keith Tyrell: I’ll be brief and this is the techie bit if you like.  But I’ll try not to be too techie, but I want to get home to you why we are facing a uniquely new threat. And our bees are facing this threat.  These neonicotinoids, I tend to call them neonics, as I can’t always get my tongue round it! They were introduced only about twenty years ago. They are systemic insecticides and this means that they are applied to the seeds of the plant as they are sown.  Now as the plant grows the insecticide gets taken up into the very body of the plant.  It gets taken into every single leaf, every single root and of course it goes into the nectar and pollen of the plant. So, all of the plant becomes toxic, so every time a bee or another pollinator visits a plant to collect pollen, it gets a tiny dose of an incredibly powerful neurotoxin.  Now this neurotoxin is many thousand times more toxic than the standard pesticides that you get on the market today.  Now these doses, while they’re tiny, they don’t kill the bee outright.  But the important thing about them is that they are cumulative, that is they build up and they are irreversible. So eventually these doses reach such critical levels that they affect the way the bee and other insects functions.  So they found that bees exposed to these toxins behave very very differently: they have trouble foraging, they’re not as efficient at foraging, so they can’t get as much food, they can’t bring food back to the hive, and they can’t even find their way back to the hive when they’ve got the food.  So bee colonies are far more likely to collapse when they are exposed to these neonicotinoids. And as we heard earlier, they are incredibly prevalent now, 24%, nearly a quarter of pesticides used in the world today are neonicotinoids, that’s just in twenty years. Bees are already facing a huge number of threats: there’s problems with varroa mite, which is a little parasite, there’s problems with lack of food, there’s problems with the weather, so they are already on the edge.  And this final pressure is what we’re seeing pushing them over the edge, and we are seeing catastrophic, catastrophic declines in bee colonies all over the world.

There are two messages I want you to leave with and this is the serious stuff:  First of all the science around the impact of neonicotinoids on bees is strong and getting stronger. The pesticides industry makes billions of pounds from this stuff every year and they have just embarked on a really aggressive PR campaign to sow doubt about the findings and scaremonger about the impact of any ban.  Do not believe them.  The science is there.  Independent scientists are queuing up, peer reviewed studies are coming out every month which show the impact that neonicotinoids are having on bees.  On the other hand, the chemical companies that make all this money from these pesticides appoint secret research that we’re not allowed to look at because of confidentiality.  So the science is strong and getting stronger.

Fact: Bees are declining at a terrifying rate all over the world and some countries are seeing between a fifth and a third of bee colonies collapse every year.  A fifth and a third of bee hives disappearing in those countries every year.  Fact: The major decline in bee populations began about the same time as neonicotinoids were introduced.  Could be a coincidence?  But we don’t think it’s a coincidence because we know the mechanism by which these pesticides affect bees.  So we know what’s happening, we know how they work and we know why this impact should happen, and lo and behold, we’re seeing it happen. It’s a chemical experiment that’s going on all around us today.

The other fact, and for me this is one of the most powerful ones, is that some countries have already acted to ban or restrict these chemicals.  And in places like Italy, where we have seen these restrictions introduced, we have seen bees start to recover.  The number of bee deaths recorded in these countries goes down after these chemicals have been restricted and more colonies survive winter, and that’s a fact.  So the science in there, peer reviewed articles show that this is happening.

The second message that I want to leave you with is that we have to act now. We cannot afford to wait.  Bees are so critical to our future, they are so critical to our ability to feed ourselves that we cannot wait.  We cannot afford to have these massive declines year on year on year.  Bee populations, pollinator populations just will not be able to cope with them.  And we’re talking about bees and the other thing to be aware of is that there are thousands of other wild pollinators.  Now we know the data about bees because bees are a commercial insect: we make money from bees, we have a crop that comes from bees called honey.  So we monitor how bees are performing.  But out there, invisible to your or my eyes, there are thousands of other pollinators doing fantastic work on our behalf, and they are collapsing just the same.  And as we heard earlier on, the apple crop for this year was the worst one for 15 years.  And one of the key reasons behind that was that pollinators couldn’t do their pollination services as well as they used to do, partly because of the weather, but they just couldn’t do their job.  So we’ve got an insight into what would happen if we start to lose our bees properly.

And, I was absolutely horrified last week, as Katherine said, when Owen Paterson failed to back an EC resolution, which would have restricted three of these neonicotinoids.  This was a minimum step.  This was a really precautionary step, it was a tiny step in the right direction.  But the UK failed to back it, and as a result, it failed.  Now the European Commission is appealing that decision because he thinks it’s mad.  And the European Food Safety Authority, who you heard about earlier on, who said that neonicotinoids were such a threat, and you’ve got to remember, this is a really conservative with a small “c” organization.  They don’t usually stick their head above the parapet and say these things.  So this is really serious stuff.

So my call is the same as Katherine’s.  Speak to your MP’s.  The countries which have imposed bans, places like France and Italy.  In France, you’ve got the farmers driving down the Champs Elysees in tractors saying “Save our bees!”  In Italy, you’ve got beekeepers camping out and going on hunger strike to raise awareness about that.  Now hunger striking about bees, maybe that’s going a bit far in the UK, anyway, but you get the message.  When politicians understand that people are concerned about an issue they wake up and they act, but you have to let them know we’re concerned and we have to write to them and we have to make them aware.  So that’s my appeal to you today.

Steve Trent:  Thank you to everyone for coming.  Just to summarise, 2.5 million have signed the petition to support action on bees.  We have some of the largest retailers in our country saying actually we think we’ve got a problem here. We have people in Italy going on hunger strike.  We have clear scientific evidence saying there is due cause to act.  Surely, we cannot be so silly as to not take the proper step forward even if it’s just precautionary and start edging back and look at the science that then emerges.  We need our Government to act, bees need a voice, it’s your voice they need, please join with us and make a big shout for bees.

Launch meeting talks transcribed by Sam Burcher MSc.  Photos (c) Sam Burcher 2013.