BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 23 August '15

Government authorised neonicotinoids despite knowing they damage honeybee colonies

A new landscape-wide study in England and Wales reveals the first evidence of a link between the use of neonicotinoids and honeybee colony losses.

Neonicotinoid ban lifted – Government allows farmers to use ‘banned’ pesticide

The findings

The research, by former government agency Fera, shows there’s a clear relationship between the use of imidacloprid – the most common neonicotinoid used over the period of the study – and overwintering honeybee colony losses.

It also shows that neonicotinoid seed treatments (mainly imidacloprid) on Oilseed rape do not produce a consistent yield benefit for farmers. On top of that, the use of neonicotinoids appeared to increase insecticide sprays the following spring – with the net effect of around 0.75 more insecticide uses per hectare.

A known link

The government has been aware of this statistical link between imidacloprid use and honeybee colony loss since early 2013. The minutes of its own Advisory Committee on Pesticides (29 January 2013) contain extensive discussion about a ‘prepublication’ analysis; it revealed that once regional differences had been accounted for, 7-8% of honeybee colony loss was associated with imidacloprid use.
 
The government’s chief scientist indicated that he had assessed the data and did not believe it to be sufficient to carry out a valid study – the analysis has now been published in one of the world’s leading scientific journals, the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

‘This is a profound disclosure by the UK Government; since 2013 they have known that neonicotinoid pesticides are linked to honeybee colony losses, but have repeatedly argued in favour of the continued use of these bee-killing toxins, even in the last month breaking an EU ban to allow farmers to use them.

‘Using neonicotinoid seed dressings is prophylactic and results in a net increase in area of land treated with insecticides, but again we find that neonicotinoids do not provide any consistent benefit to crop yields or the economy, they do however damage bees, pollinators and freshwater life: a complete ban is long overdue.’

Matt Shardlow, Buglife CEO

Advisory committee abolished

Last month the government authorised a derogation to allow farmers to use two types of banned neonicotinoid – clothianidin and thiamethioxam – on Oilseed rape, despite knowing about the link in their own data between the use of the closely related imidacloprid and loss of bee colonies.

The study period was 2002 to 2010, prior to the widespread use of clothianidin and thiamethioxam.  The government abolished the Advisory Committee on Pesticides in 2014 and there are fears that the regional data that enabled this sophisticated analysis is no longer being collated.

Read the full report, Budge, G.E. et al. Evidence for pollinator cost and farming benefits of neonicotinoid seed coatings on oilseed rape, here.