Paterson pauses on pesticides. Sorry bees, we’ll let you know in a while

Yesterday the European Commission (EC) voted about banning a class of seed treatments called neonicotinoids. Joanna Sopinska at Europolitics tells us that the vote was narrowly against the ban. So narrowly that this story isn’t over yet. The Fat Lady hasn’t started singing.

Damian Carrington at the Guardian tells us that the EC decision could be overturned on appeal. Ben Briggs at the Farmers Guardian tells us that the decision could still go either way.

I’m grateful to my fellow blogger Ann Novek for drawing attention to how the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs didn’t vote. Yes, Owen Paterson, head of DEFRA, didn’t vote on neonicotinoids. Wildlife Extra says that Mr Paterson wants to wait for more science because DEFRA’s field trials weren’t very robust. The bees in DEFRA’s experiments got contaminated by neonicotinoids.

Never mind that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) already monitors bee health. Never mind that EFSA has already concluded that neonicotinoids are a high risk to honeybees and an unknown risk to bumblebees, hoverflies and moths which also pollinate crops.

Neonicotinoids are pesticides. They’re used to treat seeds. Here’s some opinion about the value of neonicotinoids. The website I’ve just linked to makes no claim to be impartial. It’s sponsored by the European Seed Association (ESA, ‘voice of the European seed industry’), the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), Copa-Cogeca (‘the united voice of farmers and their co-operatives in the European Union’) and the agribusiness corporations Syngenta and Bayer.

In fact, you might say that industry bodies don’t want neonicotinoids to be banned. Here’s what ECPA says about yesterday’s inconclusive vote. Syngenta says that the proposal of a ban was ‘shamefully political’. Bayer ‘welcomes the fact that no consensus was reached’.

You might also say that public opinion and organic growers were, and still are, in favour of a ban. The Soil Association tells us why neonicotinoids are bad for bees.

Farmers and growers bring food to market for us to buy and eat. So it’s no easy thing to ban a class of pesticides that these good people depend upon. On the other hand, if those pesticides kill bees, who’s going to pollinate the crops? What will we eat then?

In the dry language of such reports, Joanna Sopinska at Europolitics says this. ‘The representatives of the 27 member states, meeting in the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, failed, on 15 March, to reach a qualified majority either in favour or against a proposal for a ban on the use of three neonicotinoid insecticides (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam) on crops attractive to honeybees… the Commission can now either refer the issue to the Appeals Committee (also consisting of representatives of the member states) or amend the proposal.’

So the bees face another year of neonicotinoids. Our Secretary of State hasn’t voted. What is Mr Paterson waiting for? He’s a countryman and a true-blue Tory. We’ve already seen him getting on well with the National Farmers Union (NFU). He announced a badger cull, against public opinion, and now he’s keeping that cull on pause for a few months. He was slow to respond to ash dieback disease. He never really took a lead on Horsegate. Now he wants to put the neonicotinoid ban on pause too.

I’m all for getting on well with the NFU, Mr Pausing Paterson, but you’re a Secretary of State. When are you going to lead us in our land’s best interests?


About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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12 Responses to Paterson pauses on pesticides. Sorry bees, we’ll let you know in a while

  1. Pingback: Save honeybees, Internet petition | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Tony says:

    Did you know that approximately a third of our farmworkers now incorporate Bee-keeping into their farming practices? Could it also be, that there is a direct correlation between farmland bee-keeping uptakes because of the downward trend in actual pollinator numbers? As farming is about working closely with nature, these folk aren’t here to simply line the pockets of our biggest chemical producers. Yes, of course, we have to feed the world and yes, insect killing chemicals have to be applied where necessary. However, the widespread application of this chemical has to be of huge concern. They are used on all manner of crops and have even been incorporated into some of garden products. We seriously need to rethink our plans for the future. Without the insects and invertebrates at the bottom of the food chain, the whole ecosystem itself will ultimately suffer from its own collapse disorder. Put simply, this decision proves that yet again, we are letting nature down..

    • argylesock says:

      I didn’t know that about farmworkers keeping bees. Do you know a good link to information about it?

      As to your conclusion: I agree. I’ve just talked this through with my partner, a retired farmer, and she sums it up neatly. ‘What’s the b****y point of getting seeds to germinate if there’ll be no seeds next year?’ And therefore, no food.

      • Carol Hague says:

        Yes, exactly. Sensible woman. If only Mr Paterson (I am sorely tempted to add an R to his name, but that would be childish) had half as much nous.

  3. Tony says:

    I don’t possess a link I’m afraid, but a bit of Googling will probably bring up something. I distinctly remember hearing about it on Radio Four’s farming today program, though.

  4. Pingback: Neonic makers might pay for research about neonics on the land | Science on the Land

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