UK Parliament Finds Unacceptable Influence of Pesticide Company Pollinator Research on Regulatory Decisions
(Beyond Pesticides, July 30, 2014) Critical research on the plight of pollinators is being tainted by corporate funding, according to an English report published on Monday. According to the report from the United Kingdom’s (UK) Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), a committee of Parliament, pesticide manufacturers have too much control over vital research into links between their products and the death of bees. The committee also recommends that in light of recent research, the UK government must seek a permanent ban on bee-killing pesticides.
The EAC’s report finds that UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which oversees pesticide use, relies on industry data to inform opinion that erodes public confidence in any action to protect pollinators. The report concludes, “DEFRA’s reliance on industry to fund critically important research exposes it to excessive reliance on the commercial (rather than scientific) research priorities of these bodies and is symptomatic of a loss of DEFRA’s capacity to deliver its environmental protection obligations.” Members of the committee state that DEFRA’s position requires not only that it is unbiased, but also that it is seen as such by the public. Additionally, research that will play a part in determining whether a temporary ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides becomes permanent must be subject to independent controls to command public confidence. A previous EAC report also chided their government for relying on “fundamentally flawed” studies and failing to uphold its own precautionary principle, citing their “extraordinarily complacent approach to protecting bees.”
Last December, the use of three pesticides of the neonicotinoid class, imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, were suspended in the European Union due to evidence showing high risks to bees. This suspension is up for review next year. EAC concluded last year that existing evidence of the impact on bees was sufficient to warrant a ban on the three neonicotinoid pesticides, but the UK government, which did not support the EU-wide ban, argued that available studies did not produce “unequivocal evidence that . . . serious implications for colonies are likely to arise from current uses of neonicotinoids.” Now this EAC report is urging the government to end its opposition, citing undue industry influence, and more scientific evidence of damage.
The report is a result of an inquiry into DEFRA’s draft National Pollinator Strategy, UK’s policy document that outlines efforts to find solutions that safeguard pollinators, published in March 2014. EAC examined the draft Strategy, focusing on its two central themes: the research needed to be able to protect our pollinators effectively, and the actions that should be pursued in the meantime to help safeguard pollinators. “New studies have added weight to those that indicated a harmful link between pesticide use and pollinator populations.” said EAC chair Joan Walley. “DEFRA should make clear that it now accepts the ban and will not seek to overturn it when the European commission conducts a review next year.”
In the U.S., little to no definitive action has been taken to protect pollinators from pesticide decline. Like DEFRA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which oversees pesticide regulation in the U.S., relies on industry funded data to inform its decision making process regarding pesticide impacts on human and ecological health. While industry-supported studies submitted to EPA for regulatory purposes must be conducted in accordance with agency protocol, EPA’s reliance on industry-generated findings has historically questioned. EPA has been criticized by Congress and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for allowing regulated industry influence. In 2008, the Union of Concerned Scientists released its survey finding that 889 of nearly 1,600 EPA staff scientists say that they have experienced political interference in their work over the previous five years.
Meanwhile, the scientific database keeps growing, showing severe, long-term adverse effects on bees and other pollinators from pesticide exposure. Neonicotinoid pesticides have been implicated in bee declines across the globe, while their chemical manufacturers continue to deflect attention from their products to other factors like bad weather and poor nutrition. Recent studies have found that near infinitesimal exposures to neonicotinoids causes a reduction in the amount of pollen bumblebees are able to collect for their colony. Researchers found that the effects of neonicotinoid intoxication persist for a least a month after exposure, underscoring the long-term damage these chemicals can cause to bee colonies. Another study from the Harvard School of Public Health study, shows two widely used neonicotinoids significantly harm honey bee colonies over the winter, especially during colder winters. Also read the report No Longer a Big Mystery. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recently published data that shows widespread contamination and persistence of Midwest waterways with neonicotinoids.
Recently, EPA published two tools in an effort to protect pollinators, the availability of its new Pollinator Risk Assessment Guidance, which is intended to bring clarity to the required data needed to be submitted for review by the agency, and Residual Time to 25% Bee Mortality (RT25 data), which informs applicators of the time pesticides remain acutely toxic on vegetation after application. However, despite these, the agency still falls short of answering the call of many concerned beekeepers and environmentalists that recommend restricting neonicotinoid pesticides.
A Presidential Memorandum issued in June directing federal agencies to “reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels,” and establish a Pollinator Health Task Force, as well as develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy, including a Pollinator Research Action Plan. Fortunately, the memorandum recognizes the severe losses in the populations of the nation’s pollinators, including honey bees, wild bees, monarch butterflies, and others are detrimental to our economy. Agencies have 180 days to respond to this memorandum. Meanwhile, H.R. 2692, the Saving America’s Pollinators Act (SAPA), introduced last year by Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Earl Blumenauer (D- OR), a bill seeking to suspend the use of neonicotinoid pesticides until a full review of scientific evidence demonstrates no harmful impacts to pollinators, is gaining bipartisan support in Congress. With one in three bites of food reliant on pollinators, it is imperative that solutions be found quickly to protect bees and other pollinators. Tell your member of Congress to support SAPA!
For more information on actions you can take to protect pollinators, go to Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective campaign page.
Source. The Guardian UK