The decision to allow British farmers to ignore a European ban on pesticides linked to declining bee populations has been branded a scandal by environmentalists.
The use of neonicotinoid pesticides was banned by the European Commission in 2013, due to scientific evidence of the dangers the chemicals present to the insect pollinators.
But the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has now approved an application by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) to use neonicotinoids on five per cent of oilseed rape crops in England over the coming weeks.
The decision means that farmers will be allowed to use the banned pesticides – which attack the nervous systems of insects - on 74,000 acres of land over a period of 120 days. The NFU claims that the neonicotinoids are needed to protect crops from the cabbage stem flea beetle.
It has been reported that the Government ignored the advice of some of its own experts who were opposed to the NFU’s application.David Cameron backed the decision to ease the ban. Speaking at The Royal Welsh Show, he said: “The EU put in place the ban on neo-nics, but we have to be informed by the science and if scientists start telling us that these things are safer than they thought then perhaps we can licence them. We do have think very carefully about these things. My view as someone from a rural constituency is that we should listen to the local experts such as the beekeepers and see what they have to say.”
But environmental campaigners condemned the decision. “Government claims to be open-minded and science-based about bee-harming pesticides are in tatters,” said Paul de Zylva, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “It’s scandalous that the Government has caved in to NFU pressure.”More than half a million Britons have signed an online petition calling on Liz Truss, the Environment Secretary, to “keep the ban on bee-killing pesticides.”
Heidi Herrmann, a spokesperson for the Natural Beekeeping Trust, said “All independent research has clearly shown the immense damage caused by neoticotinoid pesticides to our entire pollinator populations. At a time when bees, in particular, need all the help they can get and suffer the severe effects of loss of habitat and flower diversity, this decision is nothing but scandalous.”
Barry Gardiner, Labour’s shadow Defra minister, accused the Government of “giving in to short term commercial pressures at the expense of the future of British of farming.”
In a statement, a Defra spokesperson said: “We have followed the advice of the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides and our Chief Scientist that a limited emergency authorisation of two pesticides requested by farmers should be granted in areas where oil rape crops are at greatest risk of pest damage.”