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The National Farmers’ Union of Scotland has reacted angrily to the European Union expansion of a controversial ban on neonicotinoid pesticides for all crops grown outdoors.
The European Commission last year proposed extending its ban of three neonicotinoids — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — beyond just flowering crops, because of growing evidence of its harm to pollinating insects.
Earlier in February, a scientific review by the European Food Safety Authority concluded the insecticides posed a high risk to wild bees and honeybees.
Then last week 16 countries voted in favour of the total ban, including France, Germany and the UK. Romania, Denmark and three other countries opposed the ban, and 13 countries abstained. Neonicotinoids may still be used in permanent greenhouses.
The ban is binding in all member states. All outdoor uses of the three neonicotinoids of greatest concern for bee health will be banned outright, with use of the chemical permitted inside permanent greenhouses only.
Campaigners such as the Scottish Wildlife Trust welcomed the news. Chief executive Jonny Hughes said: ‘While it has taken a very long time to get to this point, we are pleased that the overwhelming scientific evidence showing the harm caused by these chemicals, including a comprehensive assessment of more than 1,500 studies, has finally led to a ban on their use on crops.
‘It is vital that protection for Scotland’s environment is not in any way weakened after Brexit and we hope that the Scottish Government will demonstrate its commitment to protecting pollinators by showing its support for these restrictions.
‘Agriculture has to work with, rather than against, nature and we need to question our dependency on chemicals. An increasing focus on integrated pest management will enable farmers to grow healthy crops while cutting the use of harmful pesticides.
‘This will also be essential in ensuring that farmers can continue to benefit from crop pollination provided by insects, a service that is worth an estimated £43 million to the Scottish economy each year.’
However, the NFU Scotland said the decision was a ‘disappointing blow’ to many Scottish arable farmers who for years strived to use neonicotinoids safely and responsibly.
Combinable crops chairman Ian Sands said: ‘The decision to ban neonicotinoids is a highly contentious one, and the arguments within the debate have become increasingly politicised as the debate has gone on. Unfortunately, it would seem that the final decision has been influenced more by politics and less by sound science.
‘There are still further debates to be had on other chemicals and it is important that we continue to push EU legislators to stop basing their decision-making on politics and instead on scientific facts.
‘Scottish farmers pride themselves on being the keepers of the natural environment and hold the conservation of our native species as a priority. To imply that farmers and growers would knowingly use chemicals which are harmful to an eco-system which they put so much time, money and effort into growing and nurturing is a complete insult.
‘It would seem that the decision will be fully implemented at the end of the year, so we now have a few months to take stock of where we are at and where we go from here.’