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Secret pesticide docs revealed

Government lifted bee-killing pesticide ban on the basis of ‘very little information’
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New Freedom of Information disclosures have revealed that Defra capitulated to NFU demands to allow the use of neonicotinoid treated oilseed rape seeds, despite the NFU clearly stating that alternative pesticides were available.

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

Where’s the evidence?

The NFU failed to provide evidence that using the pesticides would improve crop yields or establishment by controlling flea beetle numbers.

The NFU also stated that, if neonicotinoid seed treatments had been used in 2014 (as the NFU had requested), they would not have helped with the problems some farmers experienced with flea beetles that autumn.

Risk to bees

An EU-wide partial ban on three neonicotinoids was introduced at the start of 2014 because the pesticides posed a risk to bees.

Having failed to persuade Defra to ignore the ban in 2014, the NFU requested a derogation to allow neonicotinoid seed treatments on oilseed rape in 2015.

‘The criteria for agreeing an emergency derogation were not met – the application states that flea beetle populations would not have been controlled by the seed treatments and it’s clear that there are alternative chemicals available to use.

‘The decision to allow the use of neonicotinoid insecticides on oilseed rape appears to have been about as far from an evidence or science based decision as it is possible to get. It again looks as if the NFU and Defra are in the pockets of the agrochemical industry.’

Matt Shardlow, Buglife CEO

‘Very little information’

On 18 May Defra’s chief scientist, Prof. Ian Boyd, set out a long list of shortcomings in the application, highlighting the absence of evidence that there was a significant problem or that the seed treatments could solve any localised problems.

The chief scientist said that ‘there is very little information’ and that ‘the NFU submission makes almost no effort to link its assertions to verifiable, published evidence or provide appropriate, balanced interpretation of the evidence’.

The NFU submitted a second application to use neonicotinoids on OSR, relating only to Suffolk.

Application made public

Despite over 500,000 people signing a petition asking the government to keep the ban on neonicotinoids it was announced on 22 July that Defra had agreed to bypass the neonicotinoid ban on oilseed rape in four eastern counties.

The chief scientist’s initial concerns about the weakness of the evidence presented had not been resolved.

There are no data, studies or scientific references provided for claims that the ban on oilseed rape had reduced yields, and no new evidence that neonicotinoid seed treatments would be an effective way to reduce flea beetle populations.

No guaranteed impact

In fact, in relation to the high levels of flea beetle seen in autumn 2014, the NFU admits that ‘had the 2014/15 Emergency Use Approval been given, the problems seen in the east and south east of England would not have been prevented.’

This directly opposes the claimed purpose of the application and should have set Defra’s alarm bells ringing – but it was not highlighted in the subsequent opinion expressed by the chief scientist on 08 July.

Legal criteria failed

The application also states that there are a ‘few chemical products to control [flea beetle] infestation levels’, and lists pesticides that can be used to combat aphids. This quite clearly establishes that the (unproven) ‘danger’ could be ‘contained’ by ‘other reasonable means’.

This failure to meet the legal criteria alone should have meant the application was rejected, but the government approved a neonicotinoid (Acetamiprid) spray to control flea beetles.

The NFU application claims that a 2014 study had ‘demonstrated increased plant establishment when the OSR seed has been treated with a neonicotinoid seed treatment.’ However, contrary to the NFU claim the HGCA (AHDB) report stated that neonicotinoids did not improve yields or make any difference to establishment rates.

Friends of the Earth has initiated a judicial review of this decision; the evidence available suggests there may be a convincing case.

Click here to find out more about Buglife and its campaigns.

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