Sandy’s Garden ... More about common or garden neonicotinoids

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

The story so far: Neonicotinoids are systemic insecticides which farmers, plant nurseries and gardeners spray to kill aphids and root-feeding grubs.

They are extensively used world-wide, for insect pests which feed on any part of treated plants are killed. For years, neonicotinoids have been suspected of killing beneficial insects … particularly bees … as well as insect pests, although there is no universal agreement as to the truth of this supposition. But there is pretty universal agreement that the decline in the numbers of insects which pollinate food plants is bad news for everyone. So, what’s to be done? Now read on:

In 2013, the European Commission published the results of a research study which stated that neonicotinoids pose an unacceptably high risk to bees. The outcome was an EU-wide restriction on the use of three neonicotinoids … thiamethoxam, clothianidin and imidacloprid … in seed treatment, soil application (granules) and foliar treatment in crops attractive to bees. The United Kingdom voted against this resolution: but our government accepted the decision of the majority of EU member states and imposed the restrictions.

It is only proper, at this stage, to recall my earlier statement that I suspect that this reduction in the insect population has been going on for longer than any recent studies might suggest. My personal belief is that a variety of factors have been taking … and are continuing to take … their toll on insect life, factors like climate change, altered land use, loss of natural habitats and a whole range of human activities giving rise to things like atmospheric pollution, light pollution and loss of food sources. However, I also believe the scientific studies which do seem to show that agricultural and horticultural chemicals play a significant part in this decline in the insect population; and I believe that these studies prove that neonicotinoids are the most significant chemical agencies at work here.

I feel a quote coming on. This is from the House of Commons Briefing paper SN06656: “Further details of the UK government’s approach to agriculture … and more specifically to pesticide regulation … post-Brexit have yet to emerge but, before the referendum, George Eustice was reported as saying that the EU’s precautionary principle needed to be reformed in favour of a US style, risk-based approach, allowing faster authorisation of pesticides.” (Who is George Eustace? – Ed.) (Reply to Ed - George Eustice was appointed Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on 11 May 2015.) “This might therefore indicate that the Government could be minded to take a very different approach to pesticides approval with any opportunity for more UK autonomy, although (obviously) much would depend on the terms agreed on exit. Membership of the European Economic Area (for example) requires adopting some pesticides marketing and approval systems.”

After the UK leaves the European Union, our government will be free to ‘take a very different approach to pesticides approval’; and it seems very possible that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs … which, under present proposals will assume ‘temporary’ responsibility for currently-devolved policies governing agriculture and horticulture after Brexit … will lift current restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids. We live in an age when it is fashionable for politicians to ignore professional expertise and advice; look across the Atlantic to see where that can lead! But I shall say ‘Amen’, to these words from Tim Clapp, B&Q’s head of horticulture, “We won’t use neonicotinoids at all.” Amen!