Biotchnology in Action

My column Biotechnology in Action will go live soon. I’ll promote each article – on the first day of each calendar month, starting September 2015 – here on WordPress.

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UK: Save our bees — Keep the ban

If you care about Britain’s food supply, please sign this and pass it on to everybody you know.

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New contact details

Hello after a year’s silence. I don’t expect to write Science on the Land for a while, perhaps nevcr, but soon I’ll be writing on Science 2.0. My new column there will be about applied biotech, working title Biotechnology in Action, under my real name Sam Mason.

If you’re still reading Science on the Land, thank you. Any messages you’ve sent to me here since mid-2014 will have gone to my old Hotmail address but I no longer use that and I’ve lost its password. Oops. Instead I now have another email address, where I’ll see any comment you make to Science on the Land from now on.

See you on Biotechnology in Action if that interests you.

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Neonic makers might pay for research about neonics on the land

Here in Europe, three insect-killing neonicotinoids are under a temporary ban. During the ban our UK Government is welcoming new research. It’s now become known that pesticide manufacturers might fund some of this research. Vested interests!

Last year my fellow blogger manuelinor at Ecology is Not a Dirty Word told us about scientists calling for the land to be rid of neonics. But soon after that science came out, our UK Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Owen Paterson, at that time) said there wasn’t enough evidence that neonics harm bees. So he assertively refused to vote for or against the ban. One of Mr Paterson’s senior staff, Minister of State David Heath, agreed. Neonics aren’t known to harm bees in the field, said Mr Heath.

I don’t know which of the chemical giants are now offering to pay for science about neonics in the field. But I’m guessing Syngenta and Bayer, who challenged the European ban. Syngenta requested an exemption for autumn-sown oilseed rape (Brassica napus) this year, but soon withdrew that request. Perhaps they think they’ll gain more by paying for evidence.

Perhaps I’m being unfair on Syngenta. They’re proud to support British farmers and they’re behind the international Operation Pollinator.

This is one of the first big issues for Elizabeth Truss, the Secretary of State who took over from Mr Paterson. Will she use her new power to act for transparent research about neonics?

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A neonic that’s bad news for birds

Here in Europe, three insect-killing neonicotinoids are under a temporary ban. One of the banned neonics is called imidacloprid. Six months into the neonic ban, here’s new science about imidacloprid and insect-eating birds in the Netherlands.

The chemical and biotech giant Bayer Cropscience makes imidacloprid. Bayer gave info to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) about this particular product when it was licenced in 2009 for use on crops including tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), apples (Malus domestica) and sugar beet (Beta vulgaris subspp vulgaris). For follow-up discussions in 2011, Bayer gave info relevant to ‘risk assessment for operators and workers’ and ‘risk to birds and mammals.’ Now, EFSA has been reviewing the evidence about imidacloprid. Here’s the EFSA report published at the start of July 2014. It’s wordy! I’ll pick out some of the words about birds.

‘[R]isk assessments for… use on apple indicated a low risk to birds (including insectivorous birds)… two applications were considered separately… result[ing] in some uncertainty (imidacloprid is known as persistent and mobile in plants)…

‘A low risk was also identified for birds consuming pelleted sugar beet seeds [and for] birds consuming sugar beet seedlings… EFSA could not agree with some of the aspects considered in [some German] assessments, in particular with the approach for the estimation of the residues in insects.’

That was on 2nd July this month. A week later, along came this Dutch report about imidacloprid and insect-eating birds. According to this new science, it’s not good enough to test for acute bird poisoning. Imidacloprid builds up in soil, water and insects. And there aren’t so many insects when this neonic has been used. Many kinds of bird rely on insects as food.

The scientists say, ‘Our results suggest that the impact of neonicotinoids on the natural environment is even more substantial than has recently been reported and is reminiscent of the effects of persistent insecticides in the past*. Future legislation should take into account the potential cascading effects of neonicotinoids on ecosystems.’

I’m grateful to my fellow blogger at The Naturephile for drawing attention to this.

* They don’t name any particular insecticide ‘in the past’ but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that they’re thinking of DDT.

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Hello Ms Truss

Our new UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is Elizabeth Truss. Er… who? She’s been working for improvements to education, very important, yes, but I haven’t seen much to suggest that she knows anything about the land. Where will you lead us, Ms Truss? We’re watching you.

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Goodbye Mr Paterson

Here in Britain, our Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs has been Owen Paterson. Not any more! Today, in a Cabinet reshuffle, Mr Paterson’s been sacked.

I wonder who’ll take his place. Whoever that person is, I hope they’ll bring wellies as Mr Paterson didn’t when he visited the flooded areas of Somerset.

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