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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • 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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor