Are Neonics About To Be Totally Banned?
In an attempt to safeguard bees and other wildlife, draft regulations leaked recently in The Guardian show that the EU is contemplating banning bee-harming neonicotinoids on all crops.
Early last year, wildflowers and hedgerows were found to be contaminated by systemic insecticides ‘neonicotinoids’, as a result of drift or seepage into and persistence in soils. The findings were appalling. The EU Commission had banned the use of three of these pesticides on flowering crops, due to evidence that they are contributing to the declines in our wild bees. But with nearly two thirds of neonicotinoids still being used on other crops, wildlife is clearly still being exposed. A later report from EFSA backed up the research.
It is welcome news therefore that the EU may be about to ban these insecticides completely. Leaked draft regulations show that the EU is contemplating banning these insecticides on all crops, excluding those grown in greenhouses, in an attempt to safeguard wildlife. If so, the end of neonicotinoids may be coming into sight.
But pesticide companies are still fiercely contesting the evidence that their products are damaging wildlife. Evidence against these systemic insecticides has mounted, with harm now demonstrated to wild bees and possible risks to other wildlife, including birds. Researching how these impacts play out at the population level however, is tricky. Pesticide companies make the most of this resultant uncertainty, arguing that any harm from neonicotinoids to bees is insignificant, with non-pesticide related factors being the real culprits behind wildlife declines.
Luckily for wildlife, the EU seems to think this argument is weak. Habitat loss and maybe changing climates are contributing to wildlife population declines – so populations of pollinators are already vulnerable. A toxic chemical found in wildflowers, crops and soils, with known adverse health impacts on individuals, is likely just another nail on the coffin. One recent gold standard field study did indeed find that neonicotinoids lead to a decline in bumblebee colonies.
The pesticide industry argues however, that neonicotinoids are necessary for farmers to grow food and that without them; more damaging pesticides will be used. Legal loopholes have already allowed the ‘emergency’ use of neonicotinoids on flowering crops across Europe. There is also ample evidence of the same of higher yields being achieved without neonicotinoids.
A recent UN report has argued that the pesticide industry is cleverly perpetuating a myth that we can’t produce food without using a lot more pesticides. For the sake of farmers and wildlife, let’s hope a total ban on neonicotinoids helps expose this myth further. Could it act as a push – to spur agricultural research, innovation and policy on a journey to making pesticides a last resort – or better yet, redundant? Let’s hope so.
Worried about pesticides? You can take small steps by buying Soil Association certified organic products, or joining our campaign to make pesticides redundant by becoming a member today from just £3.50 a month.
1 Proportion of seed treatment still allowed, based on 2014 crops planted just before the ban) calculated using EFRA PUS stat data https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/pusstats/mygraphresults.cfm