|New National Pollinator Strategy – A welcome approach but too weak on pesticides|
The long awaited National Pollinator Strategy is released today by Defra Minister Liz Truss to eager anticipation amongst all those concerned with the plight of pollinators in the UK. And whilst PAN UK broadly welcomes the Strategy, we believe there are key areas where it is weak, particularly in regard to pesticides, and is a missed opportunity for decisive action on this front.
As expected, the pesticide aspect has been relegated to the typical UK government approach of ‘business as usual’, despite an acknowledgement in the document that pesticides can play a role in pollinator declines. Of great concern is the assertion on page nine of the Strategy document that “Pollinators face many pressures, including....use of some pesticides (if not used in accordance with the law and authorisation conditions.)" This is nonsensical. Neonicotinoids, which have been shown in a huge number of independent, peer-reviewed, scientific studies to cause serious harm to pollinators, have that effect when used in accordance with the law and authorisation conditions. The same case can be made for many pesticides that are used within the guidelines set by law and regulatory advice but still cause harm.
The report then goes on to say due to the tough EU regulatory regime on pesticides, unacceptable effects to the environment do not occur when pesticides are used properly. Again this is contradictory in respect of neonicotinoids, as they do cause unacceptable effects when used ‘properly’. It also indicates the UK government is supportive of the EU regulatory regime when in fact it has consistently fought tooth and nail against well justified restrictions on the use of pesticides and was particularly and bitterly opposed to any restrictions on the use of the bee toxic neonicotinoids! This is hypocrisy writ large!
The Strategy also states that there is a need for more research into the effects of neonicotinoids on bees and other pollinator species. It appears that the overwhelming body of scientific evidence (see amongst others: http://www.iucn.org/news_homepage/?16025/Systemic-Pesticides-Pose-Global-Threat-to-Biodiversity-And-Ecosystem-Services ) showing the harm that they can do is not good enough for Defra to come to a decision on. Instead they recommend that further research into the effects of neonicotinoids be undertaken and overseen by the very people that manufacture and profit from the use and sale of these chemicals, the pesticide industry. Is it possible that there is a better example of foxes looking after the hen house?
In the opinion of PAN UK this alone is enough to undermine the legitimacy of the Strategy and is a huge disappointment. We have called on the government to change its stance on neonicotinoids repeatedly and in line with other countries, not just in the EU, but globally. However they appear deaf to our appeals and prefer to side with their friends in the agrochemical industry instead.
PAN UK welcomes the inclusion of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as one of the key steps for the Strategy, as IPM, if properly applied, will result in less pesticide use. However, Defra gives no indication of any new government support for increasing IPM uptake. Looking at levels of IPM adoption in Wales, ADAS agronomists recently highlighted that much more could be done, in arable crops in particular. Many of our European neighbours are way ahead of the UK in terms of IPM implementation, working with farmers to develop sustainable systems for managing pests, diseases and weeds based on ecological science. We want the Strategy to trigger such a move here, but it needs policy commitments from Defra that current levels of pesticide reliance must be changed.
As we have repeatedly stated the UK government needs to change its thinking pesticides completely, not only for the benefit of po9llinators but for human health and the environment in general. Business as usual in regard to pesticides is simply not acceptable.
For a range of views on the new Strategy please visit the UK Bee Coalition website where some of the leading UK NGO’s give their views on the National Pollinator Strategy and its strengths and weaknesses.
4 November 2014