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.
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