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The Government’s draft National Pollinator Strategy envisages further research on the impact of pesticides on pollinators, but it needs to be transparent and subject to independent controls or it will not command public confidence, the Environmental Audit Committee warn. Some of this research will be paid for by pesticide manufacturers.
Chair of the Committee, Joan Walley MP, said:
“When it comes to research on pesticides, Defra is content to let the manufacturers fund the work. This testifies to a loss of environmental protection capacity in the Department responsible for it. If the research is to command public confidence, independent controls need to be maintained at every step. Unlike other research funded by pesticide companies, these studies also need to be peer-reviewed and published in full.”
Draft National Pollinator Strategy: monitoring and data gathering
The Environmental Audit Committee has examined the draft National Pollinator Strategy released for consultation in March 2014. The goal of the Strategy is to safeguard pollinators and their essential role in ecosystems. To that end, it incorporates a programme of research to address the ‘patchy’ evidence picture on what affects pollinator numbers.
Joan Walley MP added:
“The Government’s planned national pollinator monitoring framework will help provide a baseline picture as a starting point for new pollinator-friendly action. I’m pleased to see that the Strategy encourages the public to get involved. That will be the best way of ensuring politicians don’t lose momentum in this vitally important area.”
Neonicotinoids and the precautionary principle
In their response to the Committee’s 2013 Pollinators and Pesticides report, the Government stated that the evidence picture on what affects pollinators was not clear. The Committee concluded in 2013 that existing evidence was of sufficient concern to warrant a ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides. The Government disagreed, but the ban was adopted by the EU.
Joan Walley MP said:
“Defra should use the final National Pollinator Strategy to draw a line under the European neonicotinoid ban. It should make clear that it now accepts the ban and will not seek to overturn it when the European Commission conducts a review next year.”
“Syngenta has recently filed an application for emergency use of pesticides banned by the European Commission. The application has been withdrawn, but the Government should make clear that it would have turned it down in any case, and that no such applications will be accepted in future.”
Implementing the Strategy: Common Agricultural Policy
In the Pollinator and Pesticides report, the Committee recommended that the Government use CAP reform to introduce incentives for pollinator-friendly actions. But the way the CAP schemes have been rolled out in England means that this opportunity has not been fully grasped.
Joan Walley MP said:
“The way Defra has chosen to implement environmental schemes under the CAP does not put the focus on pollinators.These need to be looked at again. The Government should ensure that pollinators are the focus of the upcoming European Commission review of the CAP measures.”
Decline in pollinator numbers across the UK has long been a cause of concern. A number of factors—including habitat loss, climate change, parasites and use of pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids—are thought to have adverse impact on pollinators. In April 2013, the Environmental Audit Committee published a report on Pollinators and Pesticides, recommending that, in accordance with the precautionary principle, the Government immediately ban the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam. The Government rejected that recommendation, arguing that available studies did not produce “unequivocal evidence that … serious implications for colonies are likely to arise from current uses of neonicotinoids”. The European Food Safety Authority’s risk assessment of the three neonicotinoids resulted in the European Commission banning their use on crops attractive to bees. The ban came into effect in December 2013 and is due to be reviewed in 2015.
In their response to the Pollinators and Pesticides report, the Government announced that it would convene a group of experts to assess available evidence on pollinator declines. That review would later form the basis for a new National Pollinator Strategy, whose goal would be to bring together all action aiming at supporting pollinators. The draft Strategy was released for consultation in March 2014; the final version will be published later this autumn, followed by a detailed delivery plan six months later. The Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry was conducted with the aim of feeding into the final version of the Strategy. The Committee examined plans for further research put forward by the Strategy and the ways in which it would be implemented.