Leading UK scientists sting back over criticism of research into bee deaths

 

Leading UK scientists accused the Government of abusing science today after the EU strongly criticised the research it used to justify its position on the nerve agent pesticides widely linked to declining bee populations.

Europe proposed banning the use of three pesticides after authoritative research from its safety authority concluded in January that they posed an unacceptable risk to bees, although a conclusive link has yet to be proved.

But the UK opposed the ban on the use of the pesticides in April, although its opposition was not enough to prevent a Europe-wide prohibition being implemented from December 1 this year.

The Government justified its decision to oppose the ban on research by its UK Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), which the EU said today was so weak that it did nothing to change its rationale for the ban.

It identified "several weaknesses" in the research, which "raised concerns" about how its authors "elaborated and interpreted the study results to reach their conclusions".

Furthermore, a source at the European Commission said that the organisation was "puzzled" at why Britain seemed so determined to vote against the ban on the basis of this research, amid mounting suggesting a link between the pesticides and declining bee populations that has been peer-reviewed - evaluated by experts in the same field to determine whether it is worthy of publication in a recognised journal.

"The Fera study is full of holes and is fatally flawed," said Professor David Goulson, a bee researcher at the University of Sussex who has published over 200 peer-reviewed articles on insects.  Unlike most of the research that has informed the debate on the nerve agent pesticides, known as neonicitinoids, the Fera research was not published in a peer-reviewed journal but rather on the internet.

"There have been hundreds of proper papers that have been through the peer-review process but for some reason Defra (the Environment Department) and Ian Boyd (it's chief scientific advisor) chose this. Instead of doing a study and putting it through peer review, they just put it on the Internet - that's not how science proceeds," Professor Goulson added.

Dr Christopher Connolly, a researcher on neonicitinoids at the University of Dundee, said: "This study is so seriously flawed it's meaningless and it is unfair of Defra to flaunt this research over other studies. I don't think it should be able to be presented to the public until it is peer-reviewed."

The EU's Food Safety Authority (EFSA) drew particular attention to the fact that the "control" bee nests in the experiment, which were supposed to function free of the nerve agent pesticides being examined, quickly became dosed with the same pesticides as the "treated" nests. This happened as the bees flew up to two miles away from their nest in search of pollen, taking it to fields where neonicotinoids were being used.

"If controls are no longer controls, any scientist knows that you need to start again. But this is impossible because neonicotinoids are everywhere," said Professor Goulson.

The government also favoured Fera's research over an indepth study by its cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) three weeks before the vote in April which strongly recommended the ban.

"The environment department seems to be taking an extraordinarily complacent approach to protecting bees…..We believe that the weight of scientific evidence now warrants precautionary action," said Joan Walley, chair of the EAC.

A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Farming and Agriculture (Defra) said: ""Fera's study was a robust scientific work. It focused on bumblebees because they are a pollinator not currently covered by the European risk-assessment. "All new studies are useful as they contribute to the body of evidence. At present the body of evidence does not show that neonicotinoids pose an unacceptable risk to bees."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence