Not the bees: UK to support ban on insect-harming pesticides across Europe
The government said on Thursday that it would uphold a proposed EU ban on pesticides that place bees and other insects in danger, marking a reversal of the government's post-Brexit plans.
Environment secretary Michael Gove said the government's turnaround on the neonicotinoid pesticides was due to the rising amount of evidence showing the extent to which they contaminated the landscape and caused significant damage to bee colonies. Recent research showed as much as 75% of all flying insects in Germany had disappeared over the last 25 years.
The UK opposed a ban on neonicotinoids in 2013 when it was still the most commonly used insecticide, but after the "shocking" revelations Gove said the Tories "could not afford" to allow the continued use of the pesticide on British soil.
"The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100bn food industry, is greater than previously understood," Gove said. "I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk."
Having imposed a partial ban in 2013, the EC plans to bring an proposal to include all outdoor crops in the ban at a Council meeting in December.
The ban is not good news for the agrochemicals giants the manufacture neonicotinoids, Bayer and Syngenta.
A study published earlier this year showed for the first time that these nicotine-based pesticides can harm honey bees. Bayer and Syngenta, which had co-funded the research, criticised the findings.
But Gove's decision was well received by the scientific community, which had been campaigning for some time against heavy pesticide use, arguing that along with the destruction of habitats and disease, they were severely damaging insect populations.
“Michael Gove is to be congratulated for listening to the experts on this issue and backing tougher restrictions,” said chief executive of Friends of the Earth's Craig Bennett.
"But lessons also need to be learned – we now need to move away from chemical-intensive farming and instead boost support for less damaging ways of tackling persistent weeds and pests," he added.
Chris Hartfield of the National Farmers Union said that farmers had been acutely aware that bees "play a crucial role in food production" and noted that the industry had done "an enormous amount to help them."
But also said the UK's Expert Committee on Pesticide's finding of "unacceptable effects" came despite an acknowledgement of the gap in knowledge of whether neonicotinoids cause harm to overall ecosystems
"In our view, the ECP has leapt beyond its brief," it said on Thursday.
While Gove admitted that uncertainty around the science remained, it was increasingly pointing towards a single conclusion and that Number 10 would look to allocate more funds to environmentally sustainable forms of farming in the post-Brexit landscape.