Arable News

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UK study shows no link between neonicotinoid insecticides and bee health but questions remain

The Crop Protection Association has welcomed two new pieces of research commissioned by the UK Government which have found no evidence of a link between neonicotinoid insecticide use and bee health.


During a debate in the House of Commons on 26 March, agriculture minister David Heath confirmed that the results of research into the field effects of neonicotinoid seed treatments on bumble bee colonies showed no relationship between colony growth and neonicotinoid residues in pollen or nectar in the colonies.


The research, conducted by the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), reinforces previous advice by Government scientists and the independent Advisory Committee on Pesticides that the evidence available does not indicate harmful effects of neonicotinoid use on bees under field conditions.


A second study published by Defra on 27 March, assessing the key evidence available on neonicotinoids and bees, found that laboratory based studies demonstrating sub-lethal effects on bees from neonicotinoids did not replicate realistic conditions.


Commenting on the new research, CPA chief executive Nick von Westenholz said:


“The crop protection sector welcomes the robust, evidence-based approach taken by Defra on this issue, which stands in stark contrast to the knee-jerk response we have seen in Brussels. Both these studies underline the importance of taking extreme care when extrapolating the findings of laboratory studies to the field.


“This latest research confirms that a ban on the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments would be unlikely to improve bee health, whilst removing a key crop protection technology which is vital for economically and environmentally sustainable crop production in the UK and across Europe. I hope it will encourage those who have been calling for a ban on products such as these to take a step back and consider what measures are really needed to protect bee health, rather than simplistically blaming the nearest chemical. These products undergo an incredibly rigorous approvals process, which ensures their environmental impact is minimised. Removing crop protection products from use is not “playing it safe”, but has serious implications for the production of safe and affordable food in the UK and Europe.


“The crop protection industry recognises the critical importance of bees and the role pollinators play in our food production. It is vital that the causes of bee health problems are properly investigated and understood, and our industry actively supports on-going research and stewardship programmes aimed at protecting and promoting bee health,” he said.

NFU lead on bee health Dr Chris Hartfield said: The Defra study shows that there are still significant question marks over the science and evidence around bees and neonicotinoids. A number of studies have shown that dosing bees in the laboratory with neonicotinoids has harmful effects on their behaviour and life cycles. However, this latest Defra research is one of several field studies showing that these harmful effects on bees are not seen under normal field situations. These studies also suggest that laboratory dosing can exaggerate the exposure that bees would experience in real-life field situations.


We need to be careful not to get drawn into a game of research study top-trumps. Defras latest research is one more study, with limitations and flaws like all other studies. However what it does show clearly is that we do not have an adequate understanding of the levels of exposure to neonicotinoids experienced by bees under field conditions. And without that fundamental understanding it is clear that we cannot quantify whether and how harmful the impacts are to bees under field conditions.


The European Commission has decided to manage the risks identified by EFSA around neonicotinoids and bees by banning the use of these insecticides. The Defra study shows that this precautionary approach by the Commission is neither proportionate nor justified by the current evidence we have available.


Everyone who works to improve bee health would like a silver bullet and a single target to aim it at. But the reality is that bees continue to face multiple challenges of pests and disease, the fragmentation, degradation and loss of habitats, changing climate, invasive species and chemicals they encounter in their environment. We do not have the evidence to point the finger of blame for widespread declines in pollinator populations at any single factor.


 The Fera study entitled Effects of neonicotinoid seed treatments on bumble bee colonies under field conditions is available online at:


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