UK bee poison study "flawed"

SNP Member of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee Alyn Smith has today highlighted the findings of the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) that the UK field study into neonicitinoid pesticides was "flawed" to such an extent it does not affect the EFSA findings that neonicitonoids do pose a threat to pollinators.

The UK field trials were held up by the UK government as a genuine attempt to lead evidence-based policy but have been comprehensively exposed by EFSA as more an attempt to make the science fit political narrative.

Alyn has, from the outset, backed calls for a limited partial ban on the most dangerous neonicitinoids, while also accepting the urgent need for more and wider research into the issue. The UK continued to oppose the proposed ban, which was approved by other member states last month and will now come into effect in December 2013.

Alyn said:

"This has been a curious debate from the outset, with too many people who should know better simply parroting corporate propaganda as if it were gospel.

"Everyone accepts that the science is evolving, but only the most hidebound lobbyist would dispute the fact that neonicitinoids have a case to answer.

"It is a poor show that the UK government chose to line up with the chemicals companies rather than the wider national interest, and I hope that some of the voices within farming will take their advice from a few more sources in future.

"Serious questions need to be asked about the production of this UK report, which was held up as if written on tablets of stone but EFSA has so comprehensively rubbished it it seems more suited to the bin than any serious scientific discussion.

"The potential damage which could be done to our wider environment by continued inaction was so stark that I took the view the limited ban proposed was justified, and I was glad to see the other member states backed this view.

"This is, of course, not over, and the science will need to continue to evolve. What the debate does not need, however, is more of the UK government trying to make the science fit their own narrative rather than the other way around."


EFSA views the UK study as deficient because:

  • It only looked at oilseed rape, and only the two plant protection products authorised in the UK where the proposed ban covered three products;
  • The test site only covered a small sample of agricultural conditions in the UK so was not representative of other types of UK or EU agriculture;
  • Two important causes of exposure, dust and guttation, were not addressed by the study;
  • EFSA reached conclusions mainly for honey bees, and identified a data gap for other pollinators. Field studies of bumble bees cannot be used to understand the risks to honey bees and other pollinators because of significant species differences;
  • Inconsistencies and contradictory statements regarding the objectives of the study;
  • Absence of suitable control bee colonies. In particular, analysis of residues in pollen and nectar showed that the "control" site had been contaminated by thiamethoxam;
  • Environmental conditions were varied across the three the test sites, which reduces the sensitivity of the study in detecting effects on colonies; and
  • EFSA also raised concerns about how the study results could reasonably be used to reach the conclusions the report came to.