More than 30 studies in three years show adverse effects of neonicotinoid pesticides

 

More than thirty separate scientific studies in the last three years have shown adverse effects on insects such as bees from neonicotinoids, the controversial nerve-agent pesticides, MPs have been told.

Yet the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) refuses to consider suspending or banning the substances, MPs on the House of Commons Environment Audit Committee heard, because it believes that there is no “unequivocal evidence” that they are causing harm.

Members of the all-party grouping, who are conducting an inquiry into “Insects and Insecticides”, expressed surprise that Defra refuses to countenance the precautionary principle in dealing with neonicotinoids, given the mounting weight of evidence that they may be involved in the sharp declines worldwide of honeybees, bumblebees and other pollinating insects. 

Neonicotinoids, which attack the central nervous system of insects, were introduced in the 1990s and now make hundreds of millions of pounds in profit annually for giant agro-chemical companies such as Bayer and Syngenta.

Earlier this year, four studies strongly implicating the chemicals in pollinator decline, two from the US, one from France and one from Britain, led to the then Defra Chief Scientist, Sir Robert Watson, ordering a review of Defra’s position on the issue. Yet on the advice of the Government’s Advisory Committee on Pesticides, the position remained unchanged.

However, MPs were told that the number of recent research papers pointing a damaging finger at neonicotinoids was in fact nearly ten times as high. Giving evidence to the EAC committee, Matt Shardlow, director of Buglife, the invertebrate conservation trust, said that his organisation had been monitoring neonicotinoid research since it last produced a report on the chemicals in 2009.

Since then, he said, they had found a total of 39 scientific studies, six of which they considered unreliable because of their methodology. Of the remaining 33, 31, or 94 per cent, showed “a much bigger or more concerning impact of neonicotinoids on insects than was previously known to be the case,” while two studies showed either no effect, or less worrying trends.

Mr Shardlow said last night that the list of studies, which were all peer-reviewed scientific papers, would be available to the public on the Buglife website tomorrow. It was also being made available to the committee.

He told the MPs: “We all know science is imperfect and some science is going to find no effect in a complex ecosystem analysis, but I think it is really really worrying that 94 per cent of these studies are showing bigger impacts than we feared.”

The Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith asked Mr Shardlow, and Nick Mole, policy officer of the Pesticide Action Network who was also giving evidence: “Why do you think Defra has not taken that evidence at the very least to justify adoption of the precautionary principle? Why are they resisting that? What is their argument?”

Mr Mole said that the Chemicals Regulation Directorate, responsible for pesticide safety, was “60 per cent funded by the work it does on approving pesticides.”

He said: “There is to our mind a clear conflict of interest – their closeness and the relationship with the work they do for the agro-chemical industry is very, very clear. That’s one reason why we think, precautionary decisions aren’t made. They are too closely embedded together.”

Mr Shardlow said that if Defra did act on the precautionary principle, there as “no question about it” that neonicotinoids would be banned.

Chris Hartfield, adviser on bee health to the National Farmers’ Union, said that the NFU did not think it was appropriate for the precautionary principle to be brought in in this case, with respect to banning the chemicals. “We do not see there is a compelling weight of evidence demonstrating that neonicotinoids are responsible for the widespread decline of pollinator populations,” he said.

Mr Goldsmith invited the NFU to carry out its own analysis of the 31 papers suggesting there were problems, but Mr Hartfield declined.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice