Pesticide trials

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If EMOTION were the basis of policy, the pesticides neonicotinoids, a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically related to nicotine, would have been banned by now (your report, 6 April). However, established scientific evidence not emotion is the only way to construct meaningful regulations about pesticide use.

Bees are under pressure from loss of habitat and disease but the link between bee declines and neonicotinoids is far from clear.

Graham White, spokesman for the UK charity Friends of the Bees, cites a long list of organisations that supposedly want to ban these pesticides but the 2.5 million-signature petition to the European Union he quoted was to save bees from extinction which is absurd, as is his implication that the pesticides will eliminate bees, birds and butterflies.

Environmental groups live on campaigns because without them they disappear and unfortunately lies and exaggeration abound. And looking at the list Mr White provides, I find it difficult to see the scientific expertise in most of them that would enable a balanced assessment of the evidence.

Instead they seem to follow the original cheerleader that set the electronic campaign going and thus have to follow suit to establish their environmental credentials. Routinely the financial costs to all of us and agriculture, of what they want, are ignored. The most competent group on Mr White’s list, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), only assesses risk – I am not aware it has asked to ban anything.

Neonicotinoids, once applied, are absorbed and act systemically. Pests that eat crop plants and particularly those like the highly-damaging aphids, are killed. No doubt improvements in pesticide application that reduce the risk to bees could be made and my understanding is that these are presently in progress.

Blanket bans deter investment in improvement but how many groups that ask for them understand that bees are not attracted to wheat and that there is no basis for preventing its use on this primary crop. Proper field trials would sort the issue for other crops.

(Prof) Tony Trewavas

Scientific Alliance Scotland

North St David Street

Edinburgh