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Pesticide threat to bees to be investigated by parliament

Published on the Guardian website on Friday 21st September 2012

A powerful group of MPs will quiz ministers on why, unlike in other countries, the mounting evidence of serious harm is not leading to action.

Neonicitinoid pesticides can cause an 85% loss in the number of queens produced and a doubling in “disappeared” bees, those that fail to return from food foraging trips: Lena Ason/Alamy.

On Wednesday, I accused the government of failing to act on the significant and growing evidence that neonicitinoid pesticides cause significant harm to bees. For my trouble, I was “mythbusted” by the department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra).

But I am far from alone in my concerns and I can now reveal that a full parliamentary enquiry is going ahead into the matter. Joan Walley MP, who chairs the House of Commons environmental audit committee, a powerful cross-party group that acts as parliament’s green watchdog, sent this letter to the Guardian on Friday.

Dear Sir

Damian Carrington’s blog on the government’s response to recent research on the impact of insecticides on bee populations is timely (The silence of the bees). Last week the Environmental Audit Committee, which I chair, decided to undertake an inquiry looking at the effects of pesticide use in the UK on biodiversity with a specific focus on bees.

As Damian’s blog pointed out, the use (and abuse) of evidence in policy-making and formulating regulation is clearly at the heart of the matter. But there are other issues that I want our investigation to examine. What monitoring is there of actual – rather than recommended – levels of pesticide usage? What are the potential impacts of these insecticides on human health? And should Defra be encouraging alternative pest-control measures, such as natural predators and plant breeding for insect-resistance, in a bid to make UK farming more bee-friendly?

We will be announcing details of the inquiry soon. In the meantime, Defra ministers may want to start doing their homework on pesticide policy and biodiversity, because we will be calling them before parliament to answer questions on these issues. In particular, we will be scrutinising the evidence behind the Government’s decision not to revise pesticide regulations or follow other European countries in temporarily suspending the use of insecticides linked to bee decline.

Joan Walley MP
Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee
House of Commons

I have very little to add to that, beyond hoping that the MPs can flush out the trials always cited by government and pesticide companies in defence of the chemicals, but which appear not to be in the public domain. The whole issue is very murky and the MPs will shed some very welcome light.

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