As you may have heard, the bees are dying. And the UK government wants to crack down on a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids that might be good for agribusiness, but also a major culprit in decimated bee populations.
According to research cited in a recent Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) press release, the combined 1,500 different species of buzzy British pollinators have a monetary value of £400–680 million per year for their agricultural productivity. With that kind of economic benefit, it's not surprising that the government wants to step in and protect our little black-and-yellow buddies.
“I’ve always been clear I will be led by the science on this matter,” British Environment Secretary Michael Gove said in the press release. “The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our GBP 100 billion food industry, is greater than previously understood. I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk.”
As a result, Gove said that the British government will begin implementing new restrictions on neonicotinoids that will be continue to be enforced post-Brexit, “I have set out our vision for a Green Brexit in which environmental standards are not only maintained but enhanced.”
The EU has been tightly regulating neonicotinoids since 2013, as they are banned already banned for use in a variety of crops, but they can still legally be used "to treat sugar beet and as seed treatments for winter cereals.” Under a recent European Commission proposal, the UK government could authorize emergency use of these pesticides, the press release states, though DEFRA wrote, "We would only do so in exceptional circumstances where there is a real need for the products and the risk to bees and other pollinators is sufficiently low." Clearly, the British government does not take threats to bees lightly.
According to The Guardian, the government’s decision was based in part on findings by the UK’s Expert Committee on Pesticides which concluded, among other things, that “exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides under field conditions can have an unacceptable effect on honeybee health.”
While this might be good news for pollinators, it’s not (immediately) good news for all farmers, since many have crop systems that currently rely on pesticides . “Farmers are acutely aware that bees play a crucial role in food production and have done an enormous amount to help them,” National Farmers Union’s acting chief science adviser Chris Hartfield told The Guardian, pointing to a “gap in understanding in whether neonicotinoids damage overall ecosystem services.”
And as humans continue to bicker about the validity of scientific data surrounding the dangers of neonicotinoids, the clock ticks for the bees.