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.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Life and Style
Customers look at the new iPhones on display at the launch of the new Apple iPhone 6 and iphone 6 plus at the Apple IFC store in Hong Kong
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Sport
Andros Townsend is challenged by Vladimir Volkov
football
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
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

Nursery assistants required across Cambridgeshire

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

SEN 1:1 Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a qualified teache...

SEN Teachers and Support Staff

£50 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an SEN Teacher or L...

English and Media Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: English & Media Teacher - ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week