Monday, 6 June 2016

Kerry Mccarthy discusses protecting our bees

I recently contacted my excellent MP, Kerry McCarthy, through 38 degrees asking her to request greater transparency from the Government regarding requests to use neonicotinoids on British crops. There is currently an EU ban on these dangerous chemicals which threaten over 250 species of pollinators including several types of bees, but it is a ban our Goverment can overturn in limited circumstances and I don't think that these decisions should be made behind closed doors. It turns out that a lot of us had contacted Kerry with our concerns about this issue.

Kerry said:

"Thank you for contacting me recently with your concerns about the decline of our bees and pollinators. I have received so many emails about this issue over the years, and have been really encouraged by the proactive action people are taking: from sourcing bee-friendly plants and shrubs to create havens in your gardens, window-boxes and allotments; to pressing retailers such as B and Q and Homebase to stop selling products which contained neonicotinoids (which they did then withdraw).

My apologies for this group email. I have read all your emails -including your individual comments and issues you raise as part of different campaigns - and have tried to respond to all of your points below.

This is an issue I care deeply about, and have been regularly raising in Parliament: in my role as Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, scrutinising government decisions, many of which are being taken behind closed doors; highlighting the innovative work taking place here in Bristol (here), speaking out against the previous Coalition Government’s attempts to dissuade other EU countries from agreeing to a 2-year suspension of neonicotinoid pesticides (here). I was one of a dozen MPs thanked by Friends of the Earth for helping with their campaign for a bee action plan (here).

I appreciate there are many reasons for the decline of pollinators, including habitat loss, climate change and pests and diseases. However, the Government cannot continue to ignore the threat to bees from neonicotinoids. I very support the European-wide ban as a proportionate response to the evidence. I am also aware that since the ban more scientific evidence has emerged which emphasises the risk of these pesticides to bees.

Recent applications to lift the ban

You may well have heard the recent, welcome news that the Government has turned down two applications for lifting the EU ban, to allow emergency use of neonics on oilseed rape crop.

I have been slightly dismayed as to how little information was previously released about these applications and the somewhat secretive process for deciding whether to approve them. Last month, I tabled a question to try to find out what emergency applications the Government had received, and when it would make a decision (here and below) – but was given very limited information.

I also think the Government shouldn’t have approved an application last year for the EU ban to be lifted to allow these pesticides to be used on oilseed rape. Their reason for lifting the ban was to help prevent crop damage, but since then harvest figures have shown that the average yield of oilseed rape actually increased by 7% from the previous year. Since these harvest figures were published, we’ve been trying to press the Government to state what amount of loss they would consider to be an emergency. It is vital that the Government takes a science-led approach to pesticide use and to consider how best to support farmers, protect wildlife and reverse the decline of pollinators.

EU-wide ban on neonics

The European Commission (EC) is currently reviewing the evidence and will look at the effects on bees from seed treatment and granule uses of the restricted neonicotinoids on any crop. The EC is expected to complete its assessment by 31 January 2017 and the UK Government says it will base its view on future regulation on all the available scientific evidence. I’ve been trying to get more information on this timetable (here and below).

Labour’s Shadow Environment frontbench fully supports the European-wide ban as a proportionate response to the evidence. I’m also aware that since the ban, more evidence has appeared which emphasizes the risk of these pesticides to bees. The European Food Safety Authority is currently reviewing the scientific evidence, and its assessment will inform whether changes should be made to current EU restrictions and whether they should be extended to cover all crops.

Restoring pollinator-friendly habitats

The Government is providing £900 million through its Countryside Stewardship scheme, which offers payments to farmers for taking actions for pollinators. However, I am concerned by the very low-uptake of this scheme and believe the Government must take measures to restore farmers’ fragile confidence in it. I am also concerned that the way in which the Government is implementing the new ‘greening’ requirements of the basic payment scheme will not deliver improvements for pollinators in the farmed landscape. I have been asking questions about this (here) and would like to see more effort from the Government in creating better farm habitats and in assessing alternatives to neonicotinoids and providing more support to farmers with Integrated Pest Management.

Thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views. I can assure you I will keep pressing the Government to apply evidence-based policy.

Best wishes

Kerry McCarthy
Labour MP for Bristol East and Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Twitter: @kerrymp; @labourdefra

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