Brexit is not a good time to be a British bee - claims Green MEP

| 3rd July 2017
Green MEPs at a die-in of bees and bee keepers in front of the pesticide industry lobby "Bee Garden" which took place in 2013 in front of the European Parliament in Brussels.
Bees in Britain are looking enviously at their EU neighbours. The EU is set to extend a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides - but agri-chemical lobbyists have the ear of pro-Brexit Tories, argues Molly Scott Cato MEP. The member of the European Parliament’s Agricultural Committee responds to our report in The Ecologist on Friday about new corporate funded research confirming the threat to bees. She argues it is now time to redouble our efforts to protect our vital pollinators.
The EU is offering the prospect of ridding Europe of these hugely harmful and totally unnecessary pesticides, that have quite clearly had a devastating effect on bee populations.

If I were a bee I might well buzz off pretty smartish across the channel. That’s because the future for these vital pollinators looks suddenly more rosy in the EU than it does in the UK.

It was Tory MEP Julie Girling - from my own region, the South West, I am ashamed to admit - who sought to block plans by the European Commission to extend current restrictions on three neonicotinoid pesticides.

She failed, due to 42 MEPs on the European Parliament’s Environment Committee voting to support the Commission’s proposal to extend the ban, and only eight siding with Girling to block the ban. Great news for EU bees, but given the Tories’ cosy relationship with the agri-chemical corporate sector, much more worrying if you are a Brexit bee. 

Neonic ban in the nick of time

Neonicotinoids are the world’s most commonly used insecticides, but have been banned on flowering crops in the EU since 2013.

The ban followed the publication of three reports by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) looking at the toxicity risk to bees and other pollinator species of three neonicotinoid pesticides.

Two of these pesticides, clothianidin and imidacloprid, are made by the corporate giant Bayer; the third, thiamethoxam, is made by Syngenta. 

In 2016 the EFSA found that using neonicotinoids on all types of crops poses a high risk to bees. The European Commission responded by proposing a ban on all uses of the insecticides outside greenhouses.

The mounting scientific evidence in support of extending the ban and the vote in the Environment Committee sends a strong message to EU member states that they should support such a ban. But only if you are in the EU of course.

Syngenta, manufacturers of thiamethoxam, has always denied its products have anything to do with bee mortality. The company earns billions of Euros a year selling neonicotinoid "plant protection products" and seed coating products. It has also been at the centre of a multi-million lobbying campaign across Europe.

The company has taken to the internet and placed full page adverts in major European newspapers, to claims that a ban on neonicotinoids is based on flawed science and emotional humbug.

It claims that a ban on neonicotinoids would lead to a fall in crop yields of up to 40% and would not save a single bee hive. This has clearly been swallowed hook, line and stinger by the Tories.

Indeed, in 2015, the then Conservative Farming Minister, George Eustice, took out a UK derogation on the EU ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, implying ‘exceptional circumstances’ for applying for an ‘emergency authorisation’ for the use of the chemicals. He also claimed there was “a lot of ambiguity” about the evidence. 

However, a recent UN report was unequivocally scathing about neonicotinoids and deeply critical of the agri-chemical corporations that manufacture them.

The UN accused Bayer and Syngenta of the “systematic denial of harms”, “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions”. 

Standing up for bees

The EU is offering the prospect of ridding Europe of these hugely harmful and totally unnecessary pesticides, that have quite clearly had a devastating effect on bee populations.

But the hard Brexit, anti-red-tape brigade inside the Tory party are more keen on ridding us of what they see as interfering rules - those regulations that actually protect our wildlife, including essential pollinators like bees. 

Despite protestations by the agri-chemical industry, farmers and Tory politicians, there is a real alternative to the use of neonicotinoids. ‘Integrated pest management’ is the term used to describe this alternative.

It involves low-pesticide input pest management, prioritising non-chemical methods - working with the ecosystem rather than aiming to 'control' it. Integrated pest management is already a goal set out within the EU Directive on sustainable use of pesticides.   

As Brexit negotiations get under way we will need to watch carefully that leaving the EU doesn’t have a nasty sting in its tail for out valuable pollinators.

As Greens, we will do all we can to defend crucial environmental regulations from attack by corporate giants and complicit politicians. 

This Author

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the South West of England and sits on the European Parliament’s Agricultural Committee

Help us keep The Ecologist working for the planet

The Ecologist website is a free service, published by The Resurgence Trust, a UK-based educational charity. We work hard - with a small budget and tiny editorial team - to bring you the wide-ranging, independent journalism we know you value and enjoy, but we need your help. Please make a donation to support The Ecologist platform. Thank you!

Donate to us here