from Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford
An international panel of scientists is calling for an evidence-driven debate over whether a widely used type of insecticide is to blame for declines in bees and other insect pollinators.
The Oxford Martin School published on May 21st the second in its “restatement” series. Restatements take an area of current policy concern and controversy and attempt to set out the science evidence base in as policy neutral way as possible. They also provide a commentary on the nature of the evidence base.
The restatement, from a group of nine scientists led by Professor Charles Godfray and Professor Angela McLean from the Oxford Martin School, attempts to clarify the scientific evidence available on neonicotinoids to enable different stakeholders to develop coherent policy and practice recommendations.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. It is open access and can be downloaded from the Royal Society website here or you can download a single pdf of the paper with the Annotated Bibliography.
An EU ban on certain neonicotinoid insecticides was introduced in December 2013 because of fears they were harming pollinating insects. Pollination by insects is critical for many crops and for wild plants but at the same time neonicotinoids are one of the most effective insecticides used by farmers. Potential tensions amongst the agricultural and environmental consequences of neonicotinoid use have made this topic one of the most controversial involving science and policy.
Professor Charles Godfray said: “Pollinators are clearly exposed to neonicotinoid insecticides, but seldom to lethal doses, and we need a better understanding of the consequences of realistic sub-lethal doses to the insect individual, bee colony and pollinator population.”
Professor Angela McLean added; “A major question to be addressed is what farmers will do now that they face restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids. Will they switch to crops that need less insecticide treatment or might they apply older but more dangerous chemicals?”
The restatement describes how much insecticide is present in a treated plant and how much is consumed by pollinators. It goes on to summarise how neonicotinoids affect individual bees and other pollinators, and the consequences at the colony and population levels.
In reaction to this study, Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Advisor at Defra, said: “It is essential that policies on the use of pesticides are built on sound scientific evidence. This paper provides an independent assessment of this subject, which will provide clarity and authority in order to help people make more informed choices.”
Paul de Zylva, from Friends of the Earth, commented: “This project is an important step toward much needed public and scientific debate and scrutiny. The Government should support and fund both more open science and safer ways to grow crops as part of its National Pollinator Strategy due in July.”
Read the full press release accompanying the paper here.
Here are some key facts about neonicotinoids and pollinators.