Let’s stop the proposed neonicotinoids ban
In March 2017, the European Commission submitted new proposals to a Standing Committee of Member States called SCOPAFF (Standing Committee of Plants, Animals, Food and Feed) to ban all outdoor uses of neonicotinoid (neonic) seed treatments in non-bee-attractive crops such as wheat, barley, sugar beet and veg. These are your seed treatments. We need you to understand the arguments, hear what people are saying and act now so that common sense wins.
What’s the current situation? What can I do?
We anticipate that the proposals will be discussed at the SCOPAFF meeting in November. However, the position is far from clear.
Some Member States favour the ban; others question the proposals or want to wait for the European Court of Justice to rule on the use of neonics in oilseed rape or the full EFSA impact review on neonic seed treatments.
The UK Government has queried the timing of the proposals and the logic of basing them on a theoretical risk. Yet it is not definite that it will vote against.
Given this uncertainty, there are two ways you can make a difference:
How do I handle criticism?
You may be challenged about your use of neonic seed treatments. These answers should help you respond.
“Neonics should be banned because they persist in the soil”
Neonicotinoids can be found in soil after use as a seed treatment, but their persistence is well within regulatory guidelines. Their ‘bioavailability’ – whether they are taken up by and protect plants in subsequent crops – is low; if this did happen, farmers wouldn’t need to use a seed treatment every year to protect their crop. Unfortunately, subsequent crops are susceptible to pest damage.
“Only a fraction of a seed treatment is taken up by the plant”
Seed treatments are the most targeted approach to protecting plants from insect damage; they only control insects that would otherwise eat the crop, leaving those that use the crop as cover untouched. This compares to the application of a broad-spectrum insecticide across the whole field which may affect beneficial insects as well as target pests.
”Neonics accumulate in nearby plants”
One paper suggests that this could be an issue; nearby plants were found to have higher neonic levels than in the treated crop in the middle of a field of oilseed rape. We cannot rationalise this data and it doesn’t agree with previous findings. Clearly, neonic seed treatments need to be used carefully to avoid scattering treated seeds into margins – stewardship is key.
“Neonics aren’t necessary and farmers should use alternatives”
A number of NGOs made similar comments three years ago when the ban on neonic seed treatments in oilseed rape came into force. It has proved so difficult to establish the crop that the area of oilseed rape in the UK has diminished by 23% since the year before the ban – essentially we have lost one in four fields of oilseed rape.
What’s the threat?
Seed treatments used in vital crops could be lost.
Deter is used by farmers as a seed treatment in wheat and barley, mainly to control aphids, the major vector involved in the highly damaging Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV). In addition, nearly half of farmers use Deter more for its ability to ‘deter’ slug attack on the seeds than for its insecticidal activity.
Poncho Beta and Syngenta’s Cruiser SB seed treatments in sugar beet would also be banned. In this crop, there is no alternative spray to control the most important aphids, and many fear that beet virus yellows would be impossible to control in the absence of an effective seed treatment.
The proposals: Bayer’s counter-argument
Bees do not forage, or normally visit, cereals or sugar beet crops. We insist on good stewardship practices within Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programmes so that farmers protect pollinators from potential risks. In their explanation, the European Commission based their proposals on a Bee Guidance document that has not been ratified by Member States.
Naturally, we are very concerned that the Commission would take far-reaching decisions using a risk assessment approach that has never been adopted, primarily due its severe shortcomings, and that it did not consider carrying out a transparent impact assessment before proposing these legislative measures.
Bayer’s position is that we are all concerned about bee health, but to propose a ban based on concerns for bees and other pollinating insects in non-bee-attractive crops is frankly bizarre. It is therefore clear that the decision to table these proposals was made without consideration of the impact that any ban would have on a UK or European farmer’s ability to grow a high-quality, affordable crop of wheat, barley or sugar beet.
The environmental case
Seed treatment is still the most environmentally preferable method of crop protection:
Today’s seed treatments contain low quantities of active substances, very precisely applied and highly targeted in use. The equivalent amount of seed treatment used over a 10,000m2 field, for instance, is just 58m2, without the risk of overspraying.
Bees are not active in these crops
Bees do not forage, or normally visit, cereals or sugar beet crops.