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Farmer-led research challenges industry neonicotinoid claims

Tuesday 04 February 2014


A Lincolnshire arable farmer has undertaken a cost analysis of the newly introduced EU restrictions on neonicotinoid seed treatments.


A 'partial ban' on neonicotinoid seed treatments was introduced last year by the European Commission in response to mounting evidence suggesting certain neonicotinoid pesticides pose a threat to bees. The new measures came into force in December.


Pesticide manufacturers, who are currently challenging the restrictions in court, claim the commission's partial ban will cost farmers in Europe dearly, though evidence from France and Italy, where the products have been subject to tighter restrictions for years, suggests otherwise.


Even so, an industry-commissioned study released to coincide with EU voting on neonicotinoid restrictions last year suggested that the EU executive's measures could cost UK agriculture £630 million and that "In the UK… loss of neonicotinoid could lead to yield decline of up to 20 percent for winter wheat farmers."  


Farmer and environmental campaigner Peter Lundgren, who believes the industry claims "are not credible," estimates that the restrictions have cost him between £2-20 per hectare for oilseed rape (against the pesticide industry's claims of £230/ha) OSR and actually saved him £13/ha in wheat.


Mr Lundgren compared a standard regime using neonicotinoid seed treatments and two applications of pyrethroid to a 'bee friendly' one with three applications of Hallmark (the active ingredient of which is pyrethroid lambda-cyhalothrin). Recent research findings suggest that chemicals including cyhalothrin can reduce the weights and survival rates of bumblebees. According to Lundgren, other options are available, but at a potentially higher cost.


He states, "Rather than the exaggerated losses claimed by the agrochemical industry the real cost per hectare to the wheat grower of adopting a bee friendly pesticide regime is in fact a saving of £13-30/ha or an additional profit of £26.6m to UK wheat growers."


Lundgren's work has been used to inform a Friends of the Earth report, which was published on Friday. More information is available from Mr Lundgren's website.


Warning that "The availability of efficacious cheap insecticides has led to a mindset where insecticides are used as an insurance against possible loss rather than as a response to an identified loss," Mr Lundgren called for a National Pollinator Strategy (expected from the government sometime over the coming weeks) which is fit for purpose and allows for financially viable and practical solutions to making agriculture more bee-friendly. He said stakeholders right along the supply chain have a part to play in creating a "chemical and cultural bee-friendly response" to the problems of pests and diseases in agriculture.


Emma Hockridge, Soil Association head of policy commented, "This new report further strengthens the fact that the pesticide industry… vastly overstated the potential impact of the neonicotinoid ban.


"This follows a history of exaggerated claims about the negative cost of restrictions. For example, when some pesticides shown to have a negative impact on human health were banned by the EU in 2009, it claimed that we would lose 100 percent of the UK carrot crop, which of course never happened."

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