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News archive: April 2013

Good Bee News!!


Europe will enforce the world’s first continent-wide ban on widely used insecticides alleged to cause serious harm to bees, after a European commission vote on Monday.

The suspension is a landmark victory for millions of environmental campaigners, backed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), concerned about a dramatic decline in the bee population. The vote also represents a serious setback for the chemical producers who make billions each year from the products and also UK ministers, who voted against the ban. Both had argued the ban would harm food production.

The vote by the 27 member states of the European Union on whether to suspend the insect nerve agents was supported by 15 nations, but did not reach the required majority under EU voting rules. The hung vote hands the final decision to the European commission, which will implement the ban. “It’s done,” said a commission source.

Tonio Borg, health and consumer commissioner, said: “Our proposal is based on a number of risks to bee health identified by the EFSA, [so] the European commission will go ahead with its plan in coming weeks. I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over €22bn annually to European agriculture, are protected.”

Friends of the Earth’s head of campaigns, Andrew Pendleton, said: “This decision is a significant victory for common sense and our beleaguered bee populations. Restricting the use of these pesticides could be an historic milestone on the road to recovery for these crucial pollinators.”

The UK, which abstained in a previous vote, was heavily criticised for switching to a “no” vote on Monday.

“So much for the precautionary principle,” said Joan Walley MP, chair of parliament’s green watchdog, the environmental audit committee, whose investigation had backed a ban and accused ministers of “extraordinary complacency”. She said the vote was a real step in the right direction, but added: “A full Commons debate where ministers can be held to account is more pressing than ever.”

Greenpeace’s chief scientist, Doug Parr, said: “By not supporting the ban, environment secretary, Owen Paterson, has exposed the UK government as being in the pocket of big chemical companies and the industrial farming lobby.” On Sunday, the Observer revealed the intense secret lobbying by Paterson and Syngenta.

The environment minister, Lord de Mauley, said: “Having a healthy bee population is a top priority for us but we did not support the proposal because our scientific evidence doesn’t support it. We will now work with farmers to cope with the consequences as a ban will carry significant costs for them.”

Syngenta, which makes one of the three neonicotinoids that have been suspended, said: “The proposal ignores a wealth of evidence from the field that these pesticides do not damage the health of bees. The EC should [instead] address the real reasons for bee health decline: disease, viruses and loss of habitat.”

Bees and other insects are vital for global food production as they pollinate three-quarters of all crops. The plummeting numbers of pollinators in recent years has been blamed on disease, loss of habitat and, increasingly, the near ubiquitous use of neonicotinoid pesticides. A series of high-profile scientific studies has linked neonicotinoids – the world’s most widely used insecticides – to huge losses in the number of queen bees produced and big increases in “disappeared” bees – those that fail to return from foraging trips.

The commission proposed the suspension after the EFSA concluded in January that three neonicotinoids – thiamethoxam, clothianidin and imidacloprid – posed an unnacceptable risk to bees. The three will be banned from use for two years on flowering crops such as corn, oil seed rape and sunflowers, upon which bees feed.

A spokesman for Bayer Cropscience said: “Bayer remains convinced neonicotinoids are safe for bees, when used responsibly and properly. As a science-based company, Bayer is disappointed that clear scientific evidence has taken a back-seat in the decision-making process.”

Prof Simon Potts, a bee expert at the University of Reading, said: “The ban is excellent news for pollinators. The weight of evidence from researchers clearly points to the need to have a phased ban of neonicotinoids. There are several alternatives to using neonicotinoids and farmers will benefit from healthy pollinator populations as they provide substantial economic benefits to crop pollination.”

Neonicotinoids have been widely used for more than decade and are less harmful than some of the sprays they replaced, but scientific studies have increasingly linked them to poor bee health.

Many observers, including the National Farmers’ Union, accept that EU regulation is inadequate, as it only tests on honeybees and not the wild pollinators that service 90% of plants. The regulatory testing also only considers short-term effects and does not consider the combined effects of multiple pesticides.

The chemical industry has warned that a ban on neonicotinoids would lead to the return of older, more harmful pesticides and crop losses. But campaigners point out this has not happened during temporary suspensions in France, Italy and Germany and that the use of natural pest predators and crop rotation can tackle problems.

“It is imperative that any alternative chemicals to be used in their place must first pass the same tests failed by the neonicotinoids,” said Dr Christopher Connolly, a bee expert at the University of Dundee. “The recent findings have highlighted an urgent need for more rigorous safety testing protocols.”

In Brussels, the countries that voted against the ban were: the UK, Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Austria and Portugal.

Ireland, Lithuania, Finland and Greece abstained.

Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Spain, France, Cyprus, Germany, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden voted in favour.

Article by Damian Carrington for The Guardian (UK), Monday 29 April, 2013

UK’s Sainsbury’s and M&S end ‘Frankenfeed’ ban


Photo by Ysanne Spevack / Words by Sean Poulter

Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op yesterday ended bans on giving ‘Frankenstein Feed’ to farm animals producing meat, milk and eggs.

The three retailers were the last of the big food chains to be holding out against the use of controversial GM crops on their farms.

The change means that the vast majority of meat, milk and eggs sold by Britain’s supermarkets will come from animals raised on a GM diet. Alarmingly, none of these products will be labelled as coming from GM-fed animals in what critics call a disaster for consumer choice.

GM crop farming has been shown to harm bees, butterflies and other insects in UK trials and on farms across the US, where many have become blighted with superweeds.

In 2011, a team of doctors in Canada found that toxins implanted into GM food crops to kill pests were reaching the bloodstreams of women and unborn babies.

Tesco is ending its ban on the use of GM soya for chickens producing meat and eggs. Along with most other retailers, Tesco already allows GM feed to be given to other farm animals.

The stores claim the reason for the U-turn is not a sudden conversion to GM, but rather they and farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to find supplies that are non-GM.

Biotech firms such as Monsanto have ensured that 80 per cent of the soya grown in the US and Brazil is genetically modified.

For shoppers who refuse to buy meat, milk and eggs from animals fed on GM, the stores will offer organic alternatives.

Sainsbury’s has also promised that food for its premium Taste the Difference range will continue to come from animals not fed on GM.

A spokesman for Sainsbury’s said: ‘It has become increasingly difficult to source guaranteed non-GM feed in the short term. So from this Monday the fresh chicken sold in our By Sainsbury’s and Basics ranges will be from birds that have been given feed which we cannot guarantee to be GM-free.’

This same policy will come into effect for chickens producing eggs for the chain from May. M&S is dropping a total ban on the use of GM soya and corn to feed chickens for meat and eggs, cows producing milk and beef, and pigs.

It said: ‘This change is absolutely necessary because there is now a much reduced supply of non-GM feed available to UK farmers.’

Waitrose is now the only large retailer to have a total ban on GM feed for chickens producing meat and eggs

The Co-op said: ‘We have looked for alternative ways to source non-GM feed, but the limited supplies of guaranteed non-GM feed available, and the potential increased costs to farmers and customers means this is not feasible.’

But Peter Melchett from the Soil Association said: ‘The idea that there is a shortage of non-GM animal feed is a myth peddled by companies selling GM feed.

‘The fact is that 20 to 25 per cent of Brazilian soybean production is free from genetic modification for the 2012-2013 crop – more than enough to supply the whole of the demand from Europe.

‘China and India soybean production is 100 per cent non-GM.’

Pete Riley from the group GM Freeze, said the retailers, ‘could have retained their non-GM policies by increasing prices paid to farmers, however farmers and consumers appear to come a very poor second to profits and share dividends’.

Waitrose is now the only large retailer to have a total ban on GM feed for chickens producing meat and eggs. It allows it for most other livestock.

Martin Humphrey of the Organic Trade Board says: “This is an issue that has been brewing for years, but in the light of ‘horsegate’ simply can’t be ignored. It’s going to be increasingly difficult to segregate GM and non-GM food and retailers are taking a pro-active approach.”

First published 12 April 2013, in the Daily Mail, UK

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