Over recent years, there has been an alarming worldwide reduction in bee numbers. In the UK, similar declines have occurred in wild pollinators such as bumblebees, moths, hoverflies and butterflies. The causes of those losses have been much debated.
When I wrote to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last month, Lord Henley replied to say that, in Britain at least, the combined factors included poor spring and summer weather, the varroa mite and other husbandry issues. My letter to the Department had been about the possibility that a group of systemic pesticides called neonicotinoids, and similar products, were contributing to the demise of bees and other pollinating insects. In response, Lord Henley said:
"In the UK, neo-nicotinoid insecticides are used primarily in commercial agriculture and horticulture production. Only a very small proportion is used in home garden products so the potential risk to bees, if any, from this type of product is negligible".
He also assured me that the UK pesticide approval regime was robust and adequate.
I sought the debate today to urge the Government to be prepared to take a step back from that position and to look again at what is happening to the small creatures that contribute so much to our environment and food production. In particular, I ask them to examine, first, the growing weight of science that shows how neonicotinoid use and invertebrate losses are likely to be linked and, secondly, the evidence that the pesticide assessment regimes in Europe and the United States, as applied to systemics and the potential for environmental damage, are inadequate in identifying what is really going on.
In 2009 the British charity Buglife-The Invertebrate Conservation Trust conducted a review of all the available scientific literature about the effects of neonicotinoids and the Bayer product Imidacloprid in particular on non-target insect species. The report referred to 100 scientific studies and papers, and highlighted some real concerns that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees and other pollinating insects. It also identified a particular problem of insects ingesting tiny doses on repeated visits to treated plants. The testing methodology of the Imidacloprid draft assessment report under EU regulations was not sufficiently sensitive to detect that.