Sunday, July 19, 2015

Is DEFRA set to let bees down?

In early July 38Degrees, the campaigning organization, circulated its supporters with a statement advising that the Government's Advisory body had provided a view that the ban on neocotinids should be upheld. Additionally it advised supporters that a massive 425,000 had signed a petition urging the Government not to withdraw the ban.  Good news indeed.

In a previous post I mentioned that I had watched the Secretary of State for the Environment, Liz Truss, receiving questions at Westminster on the 18th June. Within that occasion a couple of questions alluded to neocotinids. These weren't adequately answered under the guise of the details being confidential. In part it seemed that the NFU had applied for the ban to be uplifted in certain parts of the country this autumn.

Now neocotinid pesticides were banned in the EU in 2013, on the basis that substantial scientific evidence indicated that the nerve agents in such neocotinids cause serious harm to the bees.  As we all know bees play a crucial role in the pollination of crops and the cataclysmic depletion of their populations in recent times gives rise to more than a little concern! Differing views have emerged on the subject , in my view until such time that we fully understand what is causing the declines a precautionary principle needs to apply.

The Expert Committee on Pesticides  (ECP ), which is part of the Health and safety Executive, had recently revisited this topic and had advised the Government not to lift the ban. It had furthermore refused to back the application by the National Farmers Union to lift the ban on bee harming chemicals.  Now what you need to appreciate at this point is that the Government Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees  is that they should expect to operate free of influence from the sponsoring department or Ministers.

On 20th May the above Committee held a meeting after which a statement was issued advising that they were not prepared to back farmer's requests to use banned neocotinids, as stated above. They have been advised by Government, presumably DEFRA, not yet to publish the Minutes of that meeting online, as is usually the case, and neither has the agenda for the meeting on 7th July been issued.  The excuse issued by Government is that they didn't want a deluge of opposition from campaigners on a subject that had already received a good airing. More like the Government buying time and not wanting to commit itself !!

The National Farmers Union claim that it is beginning to be impossible to grow oil seed rape without the use of neocotinid pesticides and applied for the use of two types to be permitted as set out above.  These applications have been kept secret from MP's despite requests following the issue being raised on the 18th June.  Figures released in July show that oil seed rape yields increased by 23% in 2014 following the ban on neocotinids the year before. The NFU have countered by saying the seed used for these crops had already been treated and that sowing took place in the autumn before the ban became applicable.  An urgent request has now been submitted to DEFRA by the NFU asking that neocotinids should be used in two parts of the country this autumn where the threat of flea beetle is highest. In the NFU's words, the use of neocotinids is a "vital weapon"  !! Surely the solution is to not proceed with sowing oil seed rape in these areas and leave production to other parts of the country ?

It's worth mentioning that on the 1st July an announcement was made by DEFRA that, within the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, a sum of £80 million was to be set aside to support initiatives with bees. As all this controversy ebbs and flows we get closer to the summer recess at Westminster and the opportunity for unobtrusive statements to be issued by Departments.  Given Liz Truss's apparent mission to turn DEFRA into a replacement Ministry of Agriculture, Fishereis  and Food and pursue a complete lack of initiative on wildlife and natural environment issues, the outcome of all this is a worry. Previous to her undoubted round of planned visits to farmers markets, County Shows and cheese producers this summer one hopes that there will be some serious consideration on the above issue, that the advice of the expert committee will be upheld and that the UK will put both intent and force behind retaining our bee populations.