Chemical seed treatment not to blame for decline in bee populations
We are all concerned about the decline in the bee population, but an EU study has shown that a knee-jerk reaction banning a single chemical seed treatment is not the answer.
It showed that restrictions on the use of neonicotinoid could lead to yield declines of up to a fifth in winter wheat, slashing incomes for 15,000 growers and representing a loss to the national economy of up to £630 million.
You wouldn't expect an EU report to have a snappy title now, would you, and this one, published by the Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture, is called "The value of Neonicotinoid seed treatment in the European Union: A socio-economic, technological and environmental review."
It concludes that neonicotinoids, used as a seed coating to protect against specific insect pests in winter wheat, oilseed rape, barley and sugar beet, are critical for successful, profitable crop production. At an EU level, the review suggests that closing the gap in productivity caused by removing neonicotinoids would require an additional three million hectares of land, and could cost the EU economy as much as £13.8 billion over a five-year period.
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The report was produced with the support of the European Seed Association, COPA-COGECA (the pan-European organisation for farming unions) and the European Crop Protection Association, in response to calls for neonicotinoid products to be restricted due to concerns over declining bee populations. The crop protection sector has consistently maintained that the issue of bee health is multi-factorial, and cannot be addressed from a single perspective.
Welcoming the report, the Crop Protection Association's director of policy, Dr Anne Buckenham, said: "This report serves as an important reminder that any knee-jerk action to ban certain insecticidal treatments would have disastrous consequences for crop production, with serious implications for food prices and availability at a time of mounting concern over global food security and market volatility."
She added: "The crop protection industry recognises the critical importance of bees as a pollinator for agriculture and food production. It is vital that the causes of bee health problems are properly understood, and our industry actively supports ongoing research and stewardship programmes aimed at protecting bee health."
Dr Buckenham stressed that extensive scientific and field-based evidence pointed to the Varroa mite and parasitic diseases, combined with the problems associated with habitat loss, colony stress and climate change, as the key factors implicated in declining bee populations.
Campaigns to "blame the nearest chemical" must not be allowed to deflect research effort and resource away from these environmental, pest and disease issues, which together presented the major underlying challenges to bee health, she said.
"A ban on the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments would be unlikely to improve bee health, but would remove a key crop-protection technology which, as this report demonstrates, is vital for economically and environmentally sustainable crop production," said Dr Buckenham.