Letters: Bees and pesticides

End the denial over bee poisoning

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Sir Robert Watson, chief scientist at the Department of the Environment (Defra), has acted bravely in ordering a reassessment of the licensing of neonicotinoid pesticides in the UK. The French government banned these poisons in 2000, after the deaths of half a million bee colonies; Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland followed after similar wildlife catastrophes.

Watson faces an uphill struggle; Defra, its Food and Environment Research Agency and the Advisory Committee on Pesticides have all resolutely ignored the many peer-reviewed studies from Europe, from as long ago as 1999, which proved the extreme toxicity of neoniocotinoids for honeybees, bumblebees and butterflies.

The wildlife NGOs are similarly in denial. With the honourable exception of Buglife, all have stood by silently as bees, pollinating insects, soil-invertebrates and farmland birds are wiped from the face of Britain's countryside.

Painful as it may be for Defra, the ACP and the leading wildlife bodies to admit that they got this wrong, they must call for a complete ban on these poisons now, or we will suffer complete ecological disaster in this country.

Graham White

Coldstream, Scottish Borders

Your report (31 March) that in the light of new research, the Environment Department's distinguished chief scientist, Sir Robert Watson, will review the safety of the notorious neonicotinoid pesticides, long blamed for the destruction of honey bees and other pollinators, is brilliant news.

Insect experts Buglife, supported by the Soil Association, first presented scientific evidence of the damage these new and dangerous chemicals are doing to pollinating insects during the last Labour government, at a bee seminar in 10 Downing Street called by Sarah Brown. Then and since, government scientists and regulators refused to act – just as their predecessors did 50 years ago when faced with evidence of the destruction of birds of prey by DDT. However, the battle to ban neonicotinoids is not over, as is clear from the denials of the latest science from chemical companies

Neonicotinoids are now known to have lethal impacts on bees at tiny doses, well below the levels regulators currently consider "safe". Most chemical sprays used on our food are declared "safe" by governments on the basis that the very small doses that often remain on food are below a level where they can affect humans or wildlife, and can thus be ignored. This latest research undermines a significant part of the safety case for all chemical sprays used in farming, and should lead to a fundamental rethink in how we farm.

Peter Melchett

Policy Director, Soil Association, Bristol


Falkland Islanders have the right to remain British

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (Opinion, 31 March) dismisses talk of the Falkland Islanders' right to self-determination as "monotonous cant" and believes that it "doesn't really matter who rules" the islands. Well, try telling that to the United Nations.

Argentina has rejected the chance to share in the area's promised oil wealth. It can hardly claim it wants to free fellow-countrymen living under oppressive imperialism, since virtually the whole population have UK ancestors, and with the islands more than 300 miles from Argentina it is difficult to see how they can actually be classed as an integral part of Argentina.

So it is difficult to see the song and dance continually being kicked up in Buenos Aires as any more than political grandstanding aimed at boosting popularity and diverting attention from Argentina's many ills.

If the Falklanders ever come to see their future as part of a friendly, prosperous, democratic Argentina I am sure British politicians would be only too happy to help them on their way. But they don't.

Chris Hilsden

London NW6

It is Argentina that "can't admit the truth about the Falklands". The Falklands are not a colony, they are a settlement. To support Argentina is to support the colonisation of a people who have lived there in peace since before present-day Argentina was established and before it incorporated Patagonia. That is not what the UN's committee on decolonisation is intended to address.

Argentina's geographical claim rests on the 1881 treaty's arbitrary straight-line division with Chile of Tierra del Fuego, whose eastern coast closest to the Falklands is quite separate from mainland Argentina.

The statesmanlike if improbable solution must be that Argentina renounces its claim and that all three countries and the Falkland Islanders come to a sensible agreement on fishing and oil exploration rights similar to those pertaining in the North Sea.

John Birkett

St Andrews, Fife


Secrets of Damien Hirst's success

Julian Spalding's article (27 March) had me excited for a split-second. I thought he was saying that Damien Hirst's prices were actually tumbling. No such luck. I'm afraid his work is in too many prestigious collections for that bubble to burst.

Hirst is one of a pool of artists who have thrived in the vacuum that is the contemporary visual arts scene. They, along with the art establishment, regard the traditions of painting and sculpture with suspicion and contempt. But although the "anti-art" approach may have been bracing when the Dadaists developed it, I am afraid it has long been a tired old pose. Of course, it is popular with those who wish to believe that art is whatever is called "art" and for whom considerations of quality are unhealthily elitist.

For them, it is much nicer to contemplate a shark in a tank than a Velasquez. They don't like the way that such works make them feel the crushing poverty of contemporary art, while they feel comfortably unchallenged by the empty "edginess" of Hirst's object.

In such an atmosphere, where will you come across a real painter or sculptor who has the requisite star quality to compete? They are not weird enough or especially self-pitying or sufficiently lacking in talent or modesty to cut it. In addition they probably have the humility to think that they can learn from previous masters of sculpture or painting.

Certainly they lack the essential post-modern irony that would shield them from the temptation to engage whole-heartedly with subject matter and medium. After all, such concerns would only to get in the way of that tacky flirtation with shocking idea after shocking idea so beloved of contemporary high-fliers and their market.

Martin Murray

London SW23

Perhaps instead of dwelling on abstruse issues questioning Damien Hirst's talent (or not), or even if his work might be called art, it might be better to address the process by which he has reached prominence.

Hirst is one of a number of practitioners who have been championed by the former Tory publicist Charles Saatchi. In doing so Saatchi succeeded in wrenching around the entire direction of British art. To what purpose?

Before his financial intervention British art rode a wave of politically engaged anti-Thatcher, anti-Reagan sensibilities in both social realist and conceptual genres. Saatchi's financial clout allowed him to do what Nelson Rockefeller had done the in 1930s America, which was to use money to beat down a politically engaged grassroots movement.

Rockefeller notoriously tore down the work of Diego Rivera and instead championed the Abstract Expressionist movement, which he described as "free-enterprise painting". Similarly, prior to Saatchi, British art was engaged in a dialogue about power, identity, and capitalism that his intervention effectively sealed off.

Perhaps his most significant legacy is that the term "community art" is almost hardly ever uttered. Instead we have the art of extreme wealth and self-importance as practised by Hirst and Tracey Emin.

Dr Gavin Lewis



At least the lottery is all above board

Robert Duncan Martin (letter, 22 March) is another capitalist who just does not get it. He asks why people applaud lottery winners but criticise the salaries and bonuses of "hard-working capitalists".

The rules of the lottery are clear. We trust the outcome. The people who win have played the game fairly. These winners provide other players with hope that one day they too may share in the wealth of the nation and have something to pass on to their family in the future.

The problem is that some of the "hard-working capitalists" have bankrupted the country, and honest people such as public-sector workers and small business owners are now paying for their greed and will be for years.

Trust is the issue, Mr Martin. I am sure that some "hard-working capitalists" earn their money. However, what many people find impossible to bear is that some of these people have robbed the country, taken their ill-gotten gains and escaped scot-free. If they had been punished we could all move on.

John Wright

Kendal, Cumbria


Holidays with 'free' drink

There has been considerable debate on binge drinking, but I have seen no reference to the increasing promotion by travel agents of "all-inclusive" holidays and cruises. This facility for unlimited drinking while on holiday has the inevitable results. "All inclusive" holidays should be stopped, not encouraged

J Davies

Ryton, Tyne & Wear


Fair trial for GM

You are right to point out the enormous potential benefits in GM wheat which seems to have the ability to deter aphids and attract ladybirds and tiny wasps which eat the aphids (leading article, 29 March). You conclude with the question: "Will it work?" We should also ask: will the militants within the green movement allow the trials to go ahead to see if it does work? Or will they try to destroy the crops, as they have done in most other GM trials?

David Simmonds

Epping, Essex


Liberal dilemma

Steve Richards (29 March) draws attention to the problem posed to liberal principles by the threat of terrorism; but, by referring, slightly disparagingly, to "populism" and "tough stances" which "would be popular with voters", he only hints at a still more fundamental dilemma. If a liberal believes in democracy, and if the majority of the people favour "illiberal" policies, what then?

J R G Edwards

Birchington, Kent


Migrant in peril

Michael McCarthy (29 March) asks what may be the reasons for the decline of the "mountain blackbird". I think part of the answer lies in the unregulated hunting of anything that moves in Spain and Italy. On my visits to eastern Spain, there was almost always a background of shots.

Mike Joseph

Chipperfield, Hertfordshire


Rapid decline

It took many years for New Labour to achieve demonstrable utter incompetence under Gordon Brown; the Tory-led coalition under David Cameron have done this in two. Is this a record?

Peter Coghlan

Broadstone, Dorset


Free tweets

I wonder what the penalty would be for sending out tweets containing racist remarks if one was standing at Speakers' Corner.

Vivienne Cox

London W4

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