Letters: Pesticides and bees

While ministers talk, bees are still dying

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Your shocking revelations about the impact of neonicotinoids on pollinating insects ("Poisoned spring", 20 January) confirms the worst fears of scientists, conservationists and organic farmers.

There is a terrible sense of history repeating itself, as government scientists, politicians and chemical companies deny the impact of this new set of chemicals, just as they did with DDT in the 1960s. Back then it took the disappearance of many of our birds of prey before the problem was recognised. It looks as if the same is going to happen to bumblebees and honey bees.

Insect pollinators are of vital importance to organic farmers. The Soil Association and organic researchers in the USA have real concerns about all systemic pesticides, this new breed of chemical weapon, present in every part of a plant, throughout its growth. Systemic insecticides give repeated, often tiny doses of chemical to insects – and this repeated, long-term exposure is not adequately covered by pesticide safety testing.

Along with many other organisations, the Soil Association raised these concerns at a bee summit at 10 Downing Street, called by Sarah Brown when Gordon was Prime Minister. The last government refused to take precautionary action. Bees are still dying. If David Cameron wants to have "the greenest government ever" he needs to tell his agriculture ministers to act now. If many other European countries can do so, so can we.

Peter Melchett

Policy Director, The Soil Association, Bristol

French Scientists proved in 2000 that neonicotinoid pesticides were lethal to bees at infinitesimally small doses, and after the death of 500,000 hives, the French government imposed a ban. Three million more bee colonies died in America; and there have been thousands of unexplained losses in the UK. Nicotinoid bans were imposed by the governments of Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland, but not in the UK or America.

A recent study from Holland documented the steep decline of insectivorous birds – skylarks, house sparrows, starlings and partridges – because nicotinoids have wiped out the insects on which they feed.

Since 2000, when this pesticide crisis erupted, the British Beekeepers' Association has remained silent on the issue. It accepted almost £175,000, since 2001, from Bayer, Syngenta, BASF and Belchim, and endorsed their pyrethroid pesticides as "bee-friendly". The executive was recently forced to cancel these endorsements, but it proclaimed its policy "to seek future partnerships and commercial opportunities" with the "crop protection industry" – that is, pesticide manufacturers.

We call upon the BBKA to sever permanently all "partnerships and relationships" of any kind with the "crop protection industries". At a time when bees, butterflies and bumblebees are facing global extinction, there must be clear blue water between any bee or wildlife charity and the manufacturers of insecticides and GM crops.

We call upon the BBKA, bee-keepers and all who care for wildlife, to support MP Martin Caton's early day motion in Parliament, for the immediate suspension of all nicotinoid pesticides in the UK, until such time as truly independent studies prove them safe.

David Bellamy

Bill McAlister

Carol Klein, BBC Gardening Presenter

Dr Henk Tennekes, Carcinogen Toxicologist

Phil Chandler, Friends of the Bees

Graham White

Dr John Hambrey, Consultant Ecologist

Amanda Williams, Buzz about Bees

Kate Canning, Beekeeper

Eric McArthur

John Salt, Beekeeper, Coldstream, Scottish Borders

Your article "Poisoned spring" (20 January) risks misleading your readers about the real risk of neonicotinoid pesticides to bees.

The finding of the US report is not unexpected – that if a bee is given a dose of insecticide and an infection it will become weaker as a result. But that's very different from suggesting that colonies of British bees are under threat of being wiped out.

The UK has a robust system for assessing risks from pesticides, and all the evidence shows neonicotinoids – which are key to crop production – do not pose an unacceptable risk to bees if used correctly. We have rigorous controls on how they can be applied to prevent the incorrect use that may harm bees.

Among the major killers of honey bees in the UK are pests and diseases. The Government's 10-year plan, supported by funding to help beekeepers, is addressing these issues. Government regulators and scientists scrutinise developments in this area and they will not hesitate to act if any new evidence shows controls need changing.

Mike Brown

Head of the National Bee Unit

Food and Environment Research Agency, York

Lincoln's surveys of public opinion

Anthony Seldon is usually a perceptive analyst of British politics, but on Saturday he was out of his depth (Opinion, 22 January). Back to the American history books Anthony. Fancy telling us that "Great leaders, like Abraham Lincoln ... did not need focus groups to tell them what the public is thinking and what policies they should pursue."

Following the adoption of the American constitution in 1783, President Washington toured the country on horseback to assess the temper and disposition of the people toward the new government. Abraham Lincoln said that "public opinion is everything" and went on to avow that he saw his role as the elected leader of the United States as finding out what his electorate wanted and, within reason, giving it to them. He described his own soundings as his "public opinion baths".

What they were seeking then was what focus groups and representative surveys now deliver to political leaders in more depth and precision than they could have dreamt of. Wise leaders now use these tools of modern politics not to find their "moral compass", but to serve better the citizens who elect them, making their own decisions on policy and tactics informed by their knowledge of what people think rather than in the ignorance of it.

Sir Robert Worcester

London SE1

Gay guests at Christian B&B

The judge's ruling on the Christian B&B owners is yet another example of the erosion of our liberal democracy and the support of the state for the violation of personal conscience.

In his judgment Judge Rutherford stated: "These laws have come into being because of changes in social attitudes. The standards and principles governing our behaviour, which were unquestioningly accepted in one generation, may not be so accepted in the next."

While social attitudes and standards may have changed, they are not a unified whole. There is a significant range of beliefs on matters of sexuality and marriage. This judgment affords protection to one set of beliefs while punishing those who do not toe the politically correct line.

The idea of human rights, once the protector of the minority, has now become its persecutor. Those who hold to the orthodox view of the sanctity of marriage and sexuality now have to treat it as a matter of private belief that cannot inform the way they live their lives. Such a distinction is artificial and fundamentally violates conscience. We live what we believe - whether gay or Christian.

Sharon Molloy

Premier Christian Media

London SW1

I am surprised that a barrister should suggest that the "charm" of family-run businesses should be a reason for excluding them from the reach of the law (letter, 20 January). Would he also approve of such B&Bs being exempted from health and safety legislation because having fire notices posted in corridors also spoilt their "charm"? What the judge in this case insisted upon was that religious beliefs were secondary to the law. One hopes that other faith groups here will take note. Whatever you believe is less important in this country than the laws which govern it and you.

Dr Michael B Johnson

Brighton

I found Neil Addison's letter (20 January) bizarre. He implies that part of the charm of small businesses should be their freedom to discriminate against customers. As well as gay couples, should small B&B owners also be at liberty to discriminate against black people, against women or against Jews?

Dr Shell even more bizarrely claims that the hoteliers in this case are people of conscience and principle. It may surprise these gentlemen to know that many gay couples are people of conscience and principle; decent, loving and clean-living. Some – horror of horrors – are even Christian!

Daniel Emlyn-Jones

Oxford

Libel law needs urgent reform

Del Williams predicts that libel reform will "create more problems than it solves" (letter, 21 January). There is no evidence for this assertion.

Statutory reform is urgently needed to clear up the muddle that has been left by 800 years of common law. Even Lord McNally, the Justice Minister, has agreed that libel law is no longer fit for purpose. The internet has radically changed the nature of publication and our laws now have a global impact through libel tourism.

We urgently need to strengthen the public interest defence in libel; to clarify the nature of liability in online publication; to tighten the rules around jurisdiction to reduce the threat of libel tourism; to reform the iniquitous costs regime, which allows claimants to intimidate defendants into silence; and to develop effective mechanisms for alternative dispute resolution.

Parliament needs to debate these changes, which go to the heart of our democracy. Libel reform is not a poisoned chalice; it is the Holy Grail for all those who care deeply about balancing free speech and reputation.

Jonathan Heawood

Director, English PEN

London EC1

Cuts will hit the most vulnerable

Riven Vincent highlights the anguish that disabled people are feeling now that cuts to services are being implemented which affect some of the most vulnerable in society ("PM's broken promise is forcing my disabled daughter into care", 20 January).

When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than 20 years ago, I lost all my self-esteem along with my physical abilities; I could no longer work and I struggled to look after my children. My husband gave up his job and started his own business so that he could be at home and our family survived as we slowly and painfully rebuilt our lives. We did all we could ourselves, but we would not have coped if help from various sources had not been offered and gratefully accepted.

Budget shortfalls mean difficult decisions, but I am afraid that disabled people will be resented for their needs and that we will be made to feel worthless and a burden to everyone just by being who we are.

Compassion can be costly but no one has ever died because rubbish collections have been reduced in freqency.

Jane Pick

Retford, Nottinghamshire

Muslims loyal to Britain

Alan Stedall (letter, 22 January) perpetuates a stereotypic vision of British Muslims. If he were to read the results of a 2009 Gallup survey on attitudes in British, French and German Muslims he might change his mind.

He would find, for example, that 77 per cent of British Muslims identify extremely or very strongly with their country (Britain), compared with only 50 per cent of the general public. Two-thirds would prefer to live in an area made up of people from a mix of ethnic and religious backgrounds, compared with only 17 per cent who prefer areas made up mostly of people sharing their own backgrounds.

He would also learn that the number of London Muslims who believe it is unacceptable to use violence for a noble cause (81 per cent) is higher than in the general British public (71 per cent).

Francis Kirkham

Crediton, Devon

Further to Alan Stedall's letter regarding anti-Muslim prejudice, could one of the overriding factors in possible British prejudice be a simply sexual one?

Historically, the British have been utterly indiscriminate in their choice of sexual partners. Regardless of class, sex, race or colour, we, the British, have happily slept with anyone.

Various immigrant communities have attempted to resist this onslaught – mainly on religious grounds – but in time all but the most determined have crumbled beneath the priapic assault.

Islam demands adherence to sexual abstinence before marriage and strict fidelity afterwards in a manner that is largely at odds with the reality of much British behaviour.

Can any racial or religious group truly be integrated into the British way of life unless its sexual mores reflect those of the society in which it chooses to make its home?

Roy Mitchell

Brentford, Middlesex

Aim off

Intrigued to be told that some Iraqis are now "cynically convinced that the real aim" of the invasion was Iraqi oil and permanent military bases" (Patrick Cockburn, 21 January). Just surprised to learn that there was anyone who thought anything other than that from the beginning.

John O'Sullivan

Ludlow, Shropshire

Trouble

An interesting interview with Diddy (Magazine, 22 January), but not worth the trouble you had to get it. If an interviewee does not have the manners to keep to an agreed date and time then they don't deserve the publicity for their new album, book or film.

Carole Gray

Bishop's Stortford Hertfordshire

Perspectives on changes to the health service

Driving standards down

We are told competition between hospitals will increase efficiency and give better value for money. Beware politicians spinning words which have several meanings.

Competition between hospitals is already fierce, verging on too fierce, but it is competition to produce the best and most modern service possible within budget. Consider a GP with similar access to hospitals A and B. Hospital A provides excellent services but at a slightly higher cost per case than B, which provides services at the lower end of acceptable standards but at a lower cost. The doctor is aware that outcomes are better overall at A, and tends to refer patients to A. Hospital B realises it is losing income, so is forced to raise standards above the minimum accepted.

Under the new arrangement proposed under the Government's NHS changes, the GP is told by politicians and economists that both hospitals provide an acceptable service, and with a cash-strapped budget the GP will tend to refer to hospital B. A starts to lose income and is forced to lower price by lowering the standard of service. Significant treatment advances will not be introduced because this will require the upfront cost of additional new equipment and staff training. Standards will stagnate or fall.

It is worrying that this experiment in nationwide healthcare provision can be introduced on the whim of an amateur without ethics approval or pilot studies. The politicians must be honest and say they intend to reduce overall standards of care to the lowest legally acceptable to save taxpayers' money. Would they be happy for their family or themselves to be referred to hospital B?

John Atkins FRCOG

Swainby, North Yorkshire

Patients exhausted

The most thoroughgoing changes in the NHS for a generation are about to take place. Would not this be the ideal time to replace the term "patient" with something that better reflects the role of the service-user today?

The word "patient" is derived from the Latin for "suffering", so why refer to a very happy and healthy pregnant woman, for instance, as a "patient"? The word also implies "passive" suffering, as though being a patient of the NHS means that one sits back and lets the practitioners do what they (in their undoubted wisdom) think is best. A course of treatment undertaken enthusiastically by the client is likely to be more effective than one in which the "patient" intends only to take a passive role.

Whatever the outcomes of the changes in the NHS, please may we be designated as "clients" or "service users", not "patients"?

Dorothy Spence

Long Marton, Cumbria

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