THE publication earlier this week of a report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) listing potential dangers to bees through the use of one of the most popular seed treatments has created a battlefield between those who now want to ban the insecticides and those who want to retain them.
Scottish MEP Alyn Smith wants to see a “precautionary” ban imposed on the insecticides, which belong to the neonicotiniod chemical group, as he believed there were long-term dangers to bees and other pollinators.
“This news vindicates what I have been saying for some time: that the worrying decline in bee numbers is, at least in part, caused by toxic chemicals sprayed on our fields. What is most worrying in this instance is just how lax the European authorities have been in acknowledging the possibility and testing their risk assessment procedures.”
He believed Scotland was well placed to help with the additional research which EFSA has called for, saying the Bumblebee Conservation Trust at Stirling University had an impressive track record in research and could contribute to the understanding of the complex relationship between bees and the chemical used to protect seed.
The defence of the use of the neonicotinoids, which are used on an estimated 240 million acres of crops worldwide and which are reckoned to protect crops to the tune of €4.5 billion (£3.8bn) in the European Union alone, came from Mike Bushell, of Syngenta.
Within the UK, it is estimated that restrictions on the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments in the UK could lead to yield declines of up to 20 per cent in winter wheat, representing a loss to the economy of up to £630m.
Bushell pointed out that EFSA had acknowledged that there was a high level of uncertainty in its latest evaluation because the risk assessment process for bees was still under development.
“EFSA has therefore focused on theoretical risks to bees, ignoring years of independent monitoring that demonstrates the identified risks are being managed through established stewardship practices,” he said.