Restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids should be extended to safeguard bees and other pollinators, says Environment Secretary Michael Gove

  • 09
  • NOV
  • 2017

In a government statement today, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, says the UK supports further restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids because of their effects on bees and other pollinators.

The announcement, says the statement, follows advice in October from the UK government’s advisory body on pesticides, the Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP). Scientific evidence now suggests that the environmental risks posed by neonicotinoids are greater than previously understood, says the ECP advice.

“While there is still uncertainty in the science, it is increasingly pointing in one direction,” says Gove, writing in The Guardian newspaper today. “Not to act would be to risk continuing down a course which could have extensive and permanent effects on bee populations."

Gove continues: "That is not a risk I am prepared to take, so the UK will be supporting further restrictions on neonicotinoids. Unless the evidence base changes again, the government will keep these restrictions in place after we have left the EU.”

Since December 2013, says the Defra statement, the EU has banned the use of three neonicotinoids (Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam) on a number of crops attractive to bees. This partial ban is currently under review.

Comment from Rothamsted Research

Lin Field, Head of Biointeractions and Crop Protection:
Extending the ban to crops that don't flower will create problems for UK farmers, especially for those producing sugar beet and cereals. For sugar beet, there are no alternatives to neonicotinoid pesticides for controlling aphids and the viruses that they spread; there is widespread resistance to pyrethroids and carbamates. For cereals, pyrethroids are currently working in controlling aphids but we know that resistance mutations are already in the population; if pyrethroids become the main control measure, it will make selection (and increasing resistance to the pesticide) more likely.

Achim Dobermann, Director and Chief Executive:
The thing that concerns me most with these decisions is that, if you ban something, you need to be completely aware of the consequences. There will be known consequences and unknown consequences. If you have no alternative available, you might be forcing people to use something older that is worse, or forcing them towards something new that might turn out to be worse. There is not enough of a holistic view of the way that we farm, and the benefits as well as the risks of current approaches. People are perhaps more aware of the risks than they are of the benefits.

For today’s official statement, the ECP advice and Gove's comment, plus previous Rothamsted comment on neonicotinoids, and other coverage, see Notes to Editors, below.

Today’s official statement, the ECP advice and Gove’s comment

Environment Secretary backs further restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides; Defra, 9 November 2017
Risks arising from the use of neonicotinoid pesticides; The UK Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP), October 2017
The evidence points in one direction – we must ban neonicotinoids; Michael Gove, The Guardian, 9 November 2017

Previous Rothamsted comment on neonicotinoids

Neonicotinoid pesticides in honey; 6 October 2017
Still not clear on bees; 30 June 2017
Rothamsted questions EU pesticide ban as chemicals industry eyes Brexit for breakthrough on bees; 10 May 2017
Role of pesticides in bee decline: scientists call for evidence-driven debate; 21 May 2014

Some other coverage

Nature; 8 November 2017
The Guardian; 9 November 2017
The Telegraph; 9 November 2017
Independent; 9 November 2017

About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes

About LAT
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.