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.
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?