By Fiona Nicholson, Science writer
A BITTER BATTLE between environmental experts and the rich and powerful agri-chemical giants is brewing once more over the fate of our bees.
It is a David and Goliath encounter which will become even fiercer the closer we move towards the end of a ban on nerve agent-style pesticides known as Neonicotinoids, (neonics).
And Scotland is right at the heart of it.
Having lost an estimated third of its bee population within the last few years, according to beekeepers, Scotland now faces a concerted campaign by many farmers and agri-businesses to re-introduce the banned pesticides in at least a limited form.
Following a number of incidents of mass poisonings of bees, the European Food Safety Authority in 2013 banned the use of three neonics – imidaclorid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam – for use on flowering crops. The ban is up for review in December even though their use has been blamed for the decimation of bees and other pollinating insects throughout the world in recent decades.
Despite this, the National Farmers Union is encouraging farmers to apply to DEFRA for a partial reintroduction of the deadly pesticides. The NFU want to use neonics as seed treatments prior to sowing. It follows widespread complaints from farmers who say they are experiencing heavy crop losses (around 5 per cent), particularly in oilseed rape, since the ban. Since the moratorium farms have had to return to using older types of pesticides to which many insects have developed a natural resistance.
Agri-giant Syngenta, which produces thiamethoxam, has opposed the ban, claiming it is “based on poor science and ignores a wealth of evidence from the field.”
It says much of the research into the effects of neonics on bees has been laboratory-based, using dosages far in excess of those to which bees are exposed in the field. It also claims field trials – which are difficult to implement and control – have been inconclusive. A lawsuit raised by Syngenta against the European Union over the pesticide ban is still ongoing.
The agri-giant is currently the subject of a $45 billion opening take-over bid by Monsanto. If the deal is not scuppered by European and US anti-trust regulators, the mega-corporation created would control more than 35 per cent of the world’s seed supply and have a joint revenue of $30 billion, say critics of the move.
Syngenta has been described by them as “one of the biggest pushers of bee-killing pesticides in the world.”