The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has given the lie to UK Coalition government claims that its field studies show that neonicotinoids do not cause unacceptable damage bees.
In his reply to my email urging him to do his best to make sure that the Coalition government supported the EU move to ban neonicotinoids, Calderdale MP Craig Whitaker leaned heavily on a field study carried out by the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), claiming that it showed that that there was insufficient evidence that neonicotinoids caused significant harm for bees, and that Defra was carrying out further field studies. He thoughtfully enclosed an MPs’ briefing on how to deal with constituents’ correspondence about neonicotinoids and bees, from Lord Rupert de Mauley, Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra). I swear, you couldn’t make this up.
Lord Rupert de Mauley made much of the fact, picked up by Craig Whittaker MP in his letter, that “field data on honey bees indicates that the level of exposure [to neonicotinoids] in real life does not lead to…harmful effects” and that, in the absence of field data on other bee species, Defra has “commissioned field trials on bumble bees.”
Even back in March, it was clear that the government’s field study on the impact of the pesticides on bees “was seriously compromised by contamination because the chemicals are so widespread in the environment”. The Defra scientist who carried out the study, which was not peer-reviewed, admitted the hives used in the study were seriously contaminated with neonicotinoids. The Environment Secretary Owen Patterson then called for more field studies.
The Coalition government’s “no” vote to the EU proposal to ban neonicotinoids followed intense lobbying by insecticide firms, chiefly Syngenta and Bayer, which went as far as threatening to sue individual EU officials involved in the production of the European Food Safety Authority report that found that neonicotinoids posed an unacceptable risk to bees. Corporate Europe Observatory found that “furious” private lobbying by insecticide companies began in the summer of 2012, with letters sent to EU Commissioners after France had proposed a unilateral ban.
It would be good if Mr Whitaker would take constituents’ concerns seriously enough to investigate them independently, rather than relying on briefings by party advisers who – if Lord Rupert de Mauley is anything to go by – don’t seem to care about the difference between peer reviewed scientific evidence and unscrupulous corporate lobbying.