Neonicotinoid Pesticides

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:29 pm on 25th January 2011.

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Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower 1:29 pm, 25th January 2011

That is exactly my case. The evidence against the neonicotinoids now is that they make bees and other pollinating insects more susceptible to diseases, so it is not just one factor. We cannot rule out the effect of these systemic pesticides. That is the mistake that has been made so far.

Dr Jeffrey Pettis and his team at the US Department found that increased disease infection happened even when the levels of the insecticides were so tiny that they could not subsequently be detected in the bees, although the researchers knew that they had been dosed with it. Those findings are completely in line with some of the other research that I have already mentioned. That research evidence from the other side of the Atlantic follows hard on the heels of the "leaked memo" from the US Environmental Protection Agency, which is about a newer neonicotinoid called Clothianidin. It is highly critical of the risk assessment process used in the US. It states:

"Information from standard tests and field studies, as well as incident reports involving other neonicotinoid insecticides, suggest the potential for long term toxic risk to honey bees and other beneficial insects."

Alarm bells should be ringing by now. Neonicotinoids are a group of relatively new compounds that mimic the insect-killing properties of nicotine. They are neurotoxins, attacking the central nervous system of the invertebrates. They are systemic, which means that they get taken into every part of the plant, including the pollen and nectar. In turn, that means that bees and other pollinating insects can absorb them and carry them back to their nests or hives.

In 2008, total neonicotinoid use in Britain involved more than 2.5 million acres-some quarter of the arable cropland in this country-and they are big earners for the chemical companies that produce them. According to the article in The Independent, the German company Bayer earned more than £500 million from the sale of its top-selling insecticide, Imidacloprid, in 2009, which fits in with the point made by Caroline Lucas. As she said, there is no independent monitoring of the process of gathering and assessing results by the manufacturer. When that is the foundation of the approval system, is it any surprise that we find disparities between the findings of subsequent independent research on this systemic pesticide and the research in its own 2005 draft assessment report?

We need to look again at the approval mechanism for crop protection. In doing so, we should be employing the precautionary principle.